Many of the “mercenaries” fighting on behalf of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya are ethnic Tuaregs who fled conflicts in Mali and Niger in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980, Gaddafi began encouraging the young Tuareg men — illegally residing in Libya — to join military service as “African regiments” within the Libyan military. The general reputation of the Tuareg are as fierce and brutal fighters and they appear to be the “foreign mercenaries” in many of the eyewitness reports of brutality in Libya.
My first exposure to Tuareg peoples and their relationship with Gaddafi came several years ago when I started following Tinariwen — a group of former Gaddafi-trained rebels who floated for years from the refugee camps of southern Algeria to the deserts of Libya and Mali. Unlike the fighters in Libya today, this group of men put down their guns and picked up their musical instruments. The result is a special eclectic blend of North African folk, American blues and reggae.