Libya marks 81 years since the country’s national army was founded by King Idris, during the monarchy era, in August 9, 1940. Since it was established, the Libyan army was at the center of the most critical events that happened in Libya’s history.
After it was founded in 1940, the Libyan army, originally named the Cyrenaican Senussi Army, was initially established as a small military unit of 2000 men. A military school was founded in the western city of Zawiya by the Libyan government to accelerate the process of training soldiers in 1953. Then, in 1957, the Royal Military College was founded in Benghazi, allowing more men to join the army. King Idris formed a navy in 1962 and an air force in 1963. By 1967, Libya authorized mandatory 18-month recruitment of men in the army.
Following the 1969 coup, the Libyan army, under the late ruler Muammar Gaddafi, cut ties with the U.K. and began to receive military assistance from the Soviet Union. By 2009, the Libyan army was estimated to have 50,000 total troops.
During the 2011 civil war, the army was split between those who remained loyal to Gaddafi and those who joined the popular uprising against him. This division allowed for weapons and ammunition to scatter between the two sides of the war, which led to the emergence of several armed groups.
The post-Gaddafi transitional authorities failed to unify the disintegrated army; and the growing influence of lawless armed group led the majority of military commanders and soldiers to flee the country to escape retribution, targeted killings and assassinations by these groups.
By 2012, various armed groups and terrorist organizations took control of different parts of the country. They exploited the security vacuum and committed numerous human rights abuses and war crimes, the most prominent of which was the 2012 attack against the U.S. facilities in Benghazi by the Islamist militia Ansar Al-Sharia.
In 2014, a number of military units of Libya’s disintegrated army were merged into a unified national force, with a regular hierarchical structure, called the Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA is under command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who was one of the commanders that joined uprising against Gaddafi. In May 2014, the LNA launched “Operation Dignity” which sought to rid the country of lawless armed groups and terrorist organizations.
In 2015, Libya’s House of Representatives in Tobruk, which was recognized by the international community as the country’s legitimate authority at that time, appointed Haftar as the supreme commander of Libya’s armed forces. Thus, the newly-founded Libyan National Army (LNA) became the country’s official military institution, operating with authorization from the democratically-elected civilian leadership.