This was a gross exaggeration -- the vast majority of the revolutionaries had no ties whatsoever to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, and when Qaddafi moved to raze Benghazi with tanks and aircraft, the Arab League and United Nations condemned him. The United States, its NATO allies, and Gulf partners quickly intervened with massive airpower and a small number of special forces on the ground. The conflict dragged on, but in August, Tripoli fell, and in October, Qaddafi was captured and killed. After four decades of repression under Libya's self-proclaimed "Brother-Leader," Libyans emerged free to build their own future.
But how much building has really been done?
In contrast with nearly all other post-Cold War military interventions, NATO and its partners chose not to deploy post-conflict stabilization forces when the war was over. The security situation seemed calm -- indeed much calmer than many had anticipated it would be. The putative Libyan authorities were adamantly against any such deployment, fearing their already limited legitimacy would be further weakened by the presence of foreign troops on Libyan soil. They needed full credit for their victory, they argued. Few outside powers were interested in putting "boots on the ground" anyway, since most Western leaders had promised that Libya would be very different from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Libya's new leaders were right to be concerned about their legitimacy: They evinced little control over Libya's territory and security, which, for all intents and purposes, was still in the hands of hundreds of armed revolutionary militias that had sprung up across the country during the revolution.
Initial efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate these militias into a centralized Libyan army under the authority of Libya's leadership were quickly abandoned when it appeared that doing so might spark violence and undermine Libya's tenuous stability. Subsequent efforts to do so by international actors met with further resistance and even suspicion from Libyan authorities. Libyan hackles were raised by an initial effort by the British and others trying to help assess Libya's security-sector needs, further slowing reform and disarmament efforts. Meanwhile a hodgepodge of small-scale, apparently grassroots local disarmament initiatives went forward in an uncoordinated fashion.
Luckily, the situation remained relatively calm. Over the course of the next several months, the delicate peace was punctuated by occasional clashes between the militias. Some of the fighting was between pro-regime holdouts and representatives of the new Libya. Other violence, however, was more parochial in nature, with militias battling over turf,in Tripoli and other cities.
Most of this violence, however, did not affect Libya's citizens or significantly hamper progress on other fronts. In July, Libya held successful elections, and moderate secular parties took a plurality of seats in the new Libyan congress. Most outside observers hailed these elections as a major success and evidence that Libya's future was brighter than many had once predicted.