A Ballinasloe man fighting in the Libyan Civil War has said that training he received with the town’s Civil Defence has helped to save the lives of combatants. Originally from the strategic oil city of Zawiya to the west of Tripoli, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting during the war, Kareem Khbuli has lived in Ballinasloe for around 16 years and his father Nuri is a doctor at Portiuncula Hospital.
Kareem has been fighting with Zawiyan militia forces since February and says he has often been the only person with any medical training. “That training came in very useful, thank God. Because we are just normal civilians, up at the front lines, especially now that we are changing to more of an attack than defence offensive, there are more casualties. In our battlefield I was the only one that could practically be called a doctor… it’s fair to say that [my training] saved Zawiyan lives,” he said.
Kareem was forced to go into hiding in the outskirts of the city after what has become known as the ‘First Battle of Zawiya’ in late February. He helped to take the town from pro-Gaddafi forces on February 26 but after two to three weeks of assault by two mechanized brigades, the government forces regained control and he had to go underground.
“When you get caught, with Gaddafi forces, you are either killed on the spot or brought up to prison. Most people are still not found at the moment from our town that were caught by Gaddafi’s forces,” he said.
Kareem rejoined Zawiyan freedom fighters in the nearby mountains in May, where they spearheaded the move to regain the town in the ‘Second Battle of Zawiya’ that lasted from 13 to 20 August. Gaddafi’s forces were again ousted and they then moved onto Tripoli. Kareem is now back in his Libyan hometown but admits the current lack of activity has some fighters on edge.
“We don’t know what’s going on, but we all think it’s a plan [by Gaddafi loyalists]. When Tripoli fell, our crew thought it was a plan because, when we went into Tripoli, it was really easy. It was easier to take Tripoli than it was to take back our town. I wasn’t happy with that,” he said.
However, with reports claiming the former dictator’s family have taken refuge in Algeria, the civil war could be close to its end and Kareem admits he is looking forward to returning to Galway.
“I’ve been thinking about it the whole time. Sometimes at night I’d be asleep and think I’m in Ireland and then be like ‘whoa” and wake up under a tree with gunshots around. I’ve been able to feel Libyan pride for the first time since I’ve come here and for once I can say ‘hey, I’m Libyan’ but I’ll still definitely be coming back to Ireland,” he said.