TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- As rival militias in postwar Libya wage turf wars in Tripoli and the interim government struggles to form a national army, Western mercenaries are moving in to fill the security vacuum in the oil-rich North African state.
Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that the executive bureau of the National Transitional Council, striving to govern a country wracked by gunfire and political feuding, is giving these companies the time of day.
Western oil companies and other business groups hustling to get a piece of Libya's oil and natural gas wealth want protection before they start investing large amounts of money in the new Libya following the defeat and ignominious death of leader Moammar Gadhafi in an eight-month civil war.
"Compared to former Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni's rather hostile attitude, Libya's new leadership is showing greater openness toward foreign private security companies," observed the Intelligence Online newsletter, which has headquarters in Paris.
That may be because Libya's new government has still not been able to establish control over the country even two months after Gadhafi was killed by rebel forces and his brutal 42-year dictatorship crushed.
Heavily armed militias, which formed the ragtag rebel alliance that defeated Gadhafi's forces, with a major assist from NATO, are spread across the country, determined to control their home areas and defy the NTC.
These groups still have vast stores of weapons in the Mediterranean coastal city of Misurata 130 miles east of Tripoli, the capital.
The government has given the marauding militias until Dec. 20 to come under state control or face the consequences.
The main focus of the security companies is Libya's oil industry.
Oil is flowing at half its pre-war level of 1.6 million barrels per day and it will be some time before that improves given the security problems. So much of the rest of the economy is at a standstill.
Until international oil companies are guaranteed security by Libyan forces, they're not going to send back the thousands of foreign technicians who ran the oilfields before the uprising against Gadhafi.
Since Libya's new leaders have yet to succeed in creating a national army to protect the oilfields, Western security companies will have to fill the gap.
The oilmen are paying top dollar for security so they can repair damaged fields and get oil production going again.
Several weeks ago, London's HIS security consultancy was reporting that the NTC was unwilling to allow private security firms into the country. This, it said, "is acting as a brake on the country's resurgent oil production." That, however, appears to have changed as security slumped.
Leading the pack is Britain's Blue Mountain Group, which has been operating with Western companies in Libya for several months. It has received a no-objection certificate from the new Libyan authorities, Intelligence Online reports.
Foreign companies cannot work in Libya without a no-objection document, particularly with the state-run National Oil Co. and its joint ventures with Western oil companies.
The oil industry is a key sector for the security contractors. Many oil fields and facilities are in remote desert regions and are still prey to marauding Gadhafi loyalists and freelance gangs.
Blue Mountain took a major step forward in November by joining forces with a local outfit, the Eclipse Group.
Blue Mountain, like everyone else, is seeking to secure contracts with Libyan security forces to train the post-Gadhafi forces that the interim government is striving to establish.
Garda World, the international subsidiary of the Montreal's Garda Security Group, has also obtained a no-objection certificate.
Several other British outfits are also operating, primarily for Western clients.
These include Control Risks Group, one of the pioneers in the private security sector; the Olive Group and AKE, founded in 1991 by Andrew Kain, a former officer in the British army's Special Air Services Regiment that has spawned many private security outfits since the 1990s.
AKE specializes in protecting non-governmental organizations and journalists.
France is also represented by Gallice Security, run by Frederic Gallois, former No. 2 with the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group, the special operations unit of the French armed forces and known by its French initials GIGN.