BOSTON – Nearly two dozen former Libyan rebel fighters were carried in stretchers or limped and hobbled out of a U.S. Air Force medical evacuation jet in Massachusetts on Saturday at the end of a 13-hour flight for treatment of wounds sustained in the war that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The envoy of Libya’s National Transitional Council said the 22 fighters are the first of an estimated 200 combatants who will be flown to the United States for treatment.
But Mark Ward, senior adviser on Arab transitions for the U.S. Department of State, later said several European nations have offered to treat some fighters, and the number of those who could come to this country has not been determined.
The fighters were brought to the country following a request to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her trip to the Libyan capital of Tripoli last week, Ward said shortly before their flight landed at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
“Libya’s new freedom has come at a price in human life and suffering. Just as the United States and the international community stood with the Libyan people during the revolution, we continue to work with them now to address urgent needs,” Ward said.
The wounded fighters will be treated at the Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care North Shore in Salem, Mass., a long-term care facility.
An internationally established fund used by Libya’s transitional government says it will pay the fighters’ hospital bills.
The fighters were met at the airport by Ward and Ali Aujali, Libya’s ambassador to the U.S. The combatants did not speak to reporters. Firefighters stationed at the airport, Massachusetts state troopers and Emergency Medical Services technicians immediately helped them get into ambulances that were waiting on the tarmac in the freezing rain.