Unlike most of the Arab militaries, the modern Libyan armed forces were not created by their colonial suzerain. Instead, Libya's army was created by the British to fight the Italians, who ruled Libya from 1912 to 1942. In 1911 the Italians invaded the Ottoman provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania in North Africa. However, the Italians were opposed by local Bedouin tribesmen and, especially after the First World War, were forced into a long, bloody counterinsurgency campaign. Eventually, they secured the Libyan coast, but the interior, the Fezzan, remained mostly beyond their control. Because of these difficulties with the locals, the Italians generally chose not to form indigenous Libyan forces and instead policed the territory with their own troops and soldiers from their other African province, Ethiopia. When war broke out again in Europe in 1939, the British organized a small army of 600 Libyans from the Bedouin of the Sanussi order of Cyrenaica to fight the Italians in Libya. The Sanussi army, or Libyan Arab Forces, grew to five battalions of indigenous soldiers with a healthy leavening of British officers. These units saw little action during the campaigns against the Italians and Germans in North Africa because the British felt the Libyans lacked the technical skills to handle the modern vehicles and weapons that were so crucial to desert warfare. Consequently, the Libyan Arab Forces were relegated to guarding military installations and Axis prisoners of war—although one battalion did participate in the recapture of Tobruk in 1942.
After the war, the British disbanded the Libyan Arab Forces. However, nearly all of its soldiers transferred immediately to the newly formed Cyrenaican Police Force, a paramilitary formation London created to help control its new Libyan protectorate. When Libya proclaimed its independence in 1951, many of these same men then transferred into the new Royal