Barghathi blamed Libya’s enemies, both domestic and foreign, for impeding the transitional Libyan government’s efforts to build a strong national army and pointed out that a task force has been established for the purpose of getting rid of the commanders who are not working in the army’s interest.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Is there any truth to the rumor that Maj. Gen. Yusuf Al-Manqush has been dismissed from his post as the chief of staff?
Muhammad Al-Barghathi: This report is totally baseless.
Q: But Jumah Al-Sayih, chairman of the National Congress defense committee, announced the news on a local channel…
The persons who said this should be asked about it. But this report is not true, not likely, and does not exist.
Q: There appears to be some discontent among some army officers with Manqush.
As to Manqush, his performance is very good as far as I am concerned in my role as defense minister. I believe that these attempts are individual and personal—personal enmity, or something like that. They are not in the interest of the army or the homeland.
Q: Contrary to the situation with the former defense minister, is your relationship with Manqush all right? Do you have many disagreements?
I did not know Manqush personally; I met him after I became minister. His performance in the past has been good. He is a capable and efficient officer and a nationalist who does not belong to any party or community. He is also independent in his ideas and working for the interest of building the army and homeland.
Q: How much progress have you made in your efforts to build the army?
We are ready to build the army on sound and correct bases, but there are enemies of Libya inside from the former regime who are still active in undermining the internal situation and influencing some leaders. We have taken measures to get rid of some of them and established a commission. All the commanders that are impeding the building of the army will be removed from power.
Q: So hundreds of officers and commanders will leave?
Not hundreds, but some commanders that are impeding progress will leave.
Q: In your opinion, who has an interest in impeding the army?
These persons are motivated by both internal and external concerns, sometimes by factional or tribal disputes and sometimes by other parties operating abroad in ways that do not take into account the interest of building the army in Libya.
Q: Are you leaning toward building a small army? Has the issue been resolved with the UN?
We certainly sought the help of several expertise from various countries, among them Canada, Australia, India, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt. The Egyptian chief of staff visited us recently in the company of some Egyptian army commanders. In fact, Egypt opened its doors to excellent training and the exchange of expertise. We are proceeding with excellent steps.
We also have special consideration for the structure and the white paper presented to the UN, since we are seeking to build an army whose number is proportionate with the population despite Libya’s vast territory, but in ways that lead to units that are small in size but professional and equipped with special weapons—and in which aircraft are used in particular.
Q: Are there still Security Council and UN resolutions that ban the export of weapons to your country?
Chapter VII still exists, and was recently extended for one year. But, as some countries have promised, this does not prevent having special exceptions for supplying us with these weapons so as to control our borders and prevent illegal immigration, smuggling, and so on. Gaining control of the entire Libyan territory in terms of banning the militias and the extremist groups will definitely give us the chance to obtain sophisticated weapons. We are waiting for the additional year [of the UN weapons ban] to expire so that Libya can import weapons, especially from the countries that are helping it in this.
Q: There are still militias outside of your control. Are some revolutionaries impeding the building of the army?
There are, of course—no doubt. But we cannot call them revolutionaries at all, because the revolutionaries are in fact with us wholeheartedly. They have joined the army in good and excellent numbers, and several of them graduated [from the military academy] recently. We have sent hundreds on courses to foreign and Arab countries. The revolutionaries are cooperating with us to a great degree. We even have non-military formations that are well trained, took part in the liberation battles, and are now under the army’s umbrella. They will enlist in the army and be trained.
Q: Are you taking these steps to build the army despite these obstacles?
Of course, most certainly. We have made very good progress and have total control of the country. We have absolutely no problems, either with the neighbors or internally. These gangs we are talking about surprise us from time to time with some attacks on our camps or the police, but all these attempts have failed. We were even able to arrest large groups of them, and they are now in jail.
Q: What was the first issue you tackled as defense minister?
It is building a professional army, like other armies in the world—not like the army was under the former regime, which was, in fact, a joke. We want to build a well-trained army armed with modern weapons. Its main allegiances are to the homeland and the constitution, the civilian authority as represented by the government and national congress, and the imposition of democracy. We aspire to build of an army whose first task is the defense of the homeland’s territories and respect of the civilian authority, which is the peoples’ authority.
Q: Does this mean the end of the era of military coups in Libya?
God willing, most certainly. There is no scope for thinking about creating a state ruled by a dictator.
Q: What is your message to the Libyan citizen at this stage?
To be proud of the February 17 revolution, to work for building the homeland, and to enjoy the homeland and country’s resources under freedom and democracy.
Q: You recently attended a government meeting. What was discussed concerning the army?
We talked about the duties of the military governor in the south and giving him a larger budget to control the borders, and in particular illegal immigration and smuggling.
Q: What steps have you taken to stop arms smuggling?
There are, of course, reconnaissance patrols in vehicles and others in aircraft. There is no smuggling as far as weapons are concerned. This is definite. Maybe this happened in the past, but it has been brought under total control, either from our side or the side of neighboring and friendly countries, like our brothers in Algeria. There were some gangs that exploited the security and military vacuum to smuggle weapons, but we crushed and controlled them completely.
Q: What are your thoughts the prime minister’s statements about seeking the help of foreign forces to enforce security?
These statements were in fact misunderstood. He did not say this, frankly, and we assert to the whole world that there is absolutely no foreign military presence in Libya. Aside from embassy staff who are military attachés, we do not have foreign military present in this country at all. We might seek help in future by bringing a very, very limited number of elements for superior training from friendly countries, foremost of them Egypt.
Q: What is Libya’s relationship with NATO like now?
Since the February 17 revolution, we have cooperated with the countries that stood with us during the liberation war. They will have priority when we import weapons, and in military cooperation. We made this promise to the countries that were with us in that war, and we will honor our promise.
Q: Are you happy with the budget for building the army?
No, I am certainly not happy with the budget for building the army, because it does not represent our needs. In our current condition, there are other plans that are of the same importance, such as building houses for the citizens to replace those ruined during the liberation war in cities like Misratah and Ajdabiya. There are priorities as a result of the liberation war. The interests of the citizens take precedence. It is the same with the payments to the wounded and their treatment abroad. All these require big budgets that probably affected the one for the defense ministry this year.