A Libyan man is carried on a stretcher from a US Military C-17 transport plane in Boston
A Libyan man is carried on a stretcher from a US Military C-17 transport plane October 29, at Amelia Earhart Terminal in Boston, Massachusetts. © Darren McCollester - AFP/Getty Images/File
A Libyan man is carried on a stretcher from a US Military C-17 transport plane in Boston
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Simon Martelli, AFP
Last updated: October 31, 2011

Libyan war wounded head to US for treatment

When the nerves in his leg were severed by shrapnel as he battled the forces of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Mohamed knew that Libya's overworked hospitals were incapable of meeting his specialised medical needs.

Then he happily found himself among 25 war wounded chosen to be flown to the United States for treatment.

"I'm happy to be going to the United States because we don't have decent health care here," said the 21-year-old fighter from Misrata, as he boarded a US aircraft on Saturday bound for Boston, Massachusetts.

He and the two dozen with him were the latest in the evacuation of more than 3,000 wounded fighters whose treatment in foreign hospitals is being paid for by Libya's Temporary Financing Mechanism, a fund acting on behalf of the government.

The total cost is estimated at around $100-150 million, although this is expected to rise.

Other countries offering specialist treatment for the wounded fighters of Libya's eight-month conflict include Tunisia, which has taken almost 2,000 alone, Germany, Britain, France, Austria, Portugal, Turkey and Jordan.

The Libyan funding body, which is sustained by unfrozen assets of the former regime, says the care of the wounded remains a top priority and that no expenses will be spared.

"The TFM is committed to paying all hospital bills and medical expenses of the war wounded being treated abroad," TFM deputy director Shihab Elborai told AFP.

"We will of course allocate whatever is needed to ensure they receive proper care and treatment as their wellbeing is the number one priority for all Libyans."

But while thousands of wounded fighters have benefited from the evacuation scheme, many more, perhaps tens of thousands, are less fortunate, likely only to receive whatever treatment Libya's poorly-equipped hospitals can offer.

In Tripoli's central hospital, Hamam, a former combatant, fears he may never walk again.

The 25 year-old was shot in the leg one month ago, during the battle for Bani Walid, the penultimate Kadhafi bastion to fall.

He accuses the government of ignoring those like him who made personal sacrifices in the fight for Libya's independence.

"Don't they know about us? Don't they know that there are people like us here? I think they don't care about the battles we fought and the injuries we sustained," he said, adding that he does not expect to receive surgery to his shattered knee.

Ahmed Jibril, assistant to the minister of veterans and martyrs, admitted that after years of neglect under the Kadhafi regime, Libya's hospitals were incapable of meeting all the needs of those wounded in the conflict.

"We have a problem with the state of our hospitals, especially with our nurses. All our them were foreign, and they left because of the fighting... Still they have not returned. We need them now," he told AFP.

But other young Libyans are disappointed by the National Transitional Council's lack of support for the victims, or "heroes" of the revolution, and like Hamam, deeply sceptical about the priorities of Libya's new rulers.

"I heard that there was $1 billion (or more) for the wounded coming from the NTC. But I'm not sure where this money is going. I don't see it so far," said Aladdin al-Tiga, 25, an NGO worker raising money for injured fighters.

"I'm not against the NTC. But I just see them sitting in hotels, I don't want to say doing nothing, but doing little," he added.

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