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Libya's new army chief of staff prioritizes disarming fighters, protecting borders
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) ' Libya's new military chief of staff said Wednesday his first missions are to protect the desert nation's vast borders and help disarm thousands of former rebels who took part in the overthrow of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Speaking to reporters in the capital, Tripoli, Gen. Youssef Mangoush said the country's fledgling military faces huge obstacles, including rebuilding its bases and purchasing new equipment.
"Many of the military compounds are partially or totally damaged, most of the gear and equipment is destroyed and the army before the revolution was neglected by the old regime," he said.
One of the most serious and immediate problems facing the interim leaders is disbanding disparate armed groups of former revolutionary fighters, divided among the regions where the operate. The regional militias, which played a main role in bringing Gadhafi down, are in charge of security in their areas in the absence of a strong and unified national military force. Clashes are frequent.
Fierce gunbattles between the militias erupted this week in the center of Tripoli, leaving at least four fighters dead.
Mangoush said unifying the militias is a top priority.
"We hope to integrate the rebels and have life go back to normal, and keep things under control," Mangoush said. He said that in the first phase of recruitment, some 25,000 soldiers will be trained.
"Our long term plans are to build a modern army," he said.
The Libyan military, still recruiting fighters and undergoing an overhaul, has also yet to establish itself as the central authority on the ground.
Mangoush said that brigades that once protected Gadhafi, who was captured and killed in October, are still armed.
Mangoush was once a special forces commander under Gadhafi, but he resigned from the military 10 years before the uprising. He joined with the opposition in its battle to overthrow Gadhafi's regime shortly after protests erupted in February.
During the fighting, he was detained in the eastern oil port city of Brega and taken to Tripoli, where he was held for four months until the opposition freed him and others when they overran the capital in August.
Libya's ruling National Transitional Council acknowledges that forging a national army could take months.
On Dec. 12, Libya's new leaders said they hoped to have a working army and police force up and running in 100 days.
Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the commander of the fledgling national army, said at the time that he believed the timetable would give new recruits enough time to train and reorganize after the eight-month civil war that ended with Gadhafi's death, but he also said it would take at least three to five years before Libya can field an army strong enough to protect its borders.