Ibrahim Abdulhamid Kadiki was a newly married man when, in 1986, he was ordered to join the Libyan forces fighting in Chad or have his salary frozen.
“From 22 October 1986, when I arrived in Chad, to 2 January 1987, I was in the same military base with 1,300 other Libyan soldiers in Fada.” The soldiers came from all over Libya. Kadiki, from Benghazi, recalls a group of civilian police from the Green Mountains among them. The soldiers came from both military and civilian backgrounds and Kadiki recalls the battle of Fada as the first time in the nine-year conflict between Libya and Chad that civilians, like himself, were brought in to fight.
“I would see planes come in with supplies and weapons and military vehicles going to the Sadiqa forces, while we were no longer receiving supplies or financing, despite the fact [Chad President Hissène] Habré had announced that he would begin liberating lands belonging to Chad from 1 January 1987.”
The ‘Sadiqa’ forces Kadiki refers to were Chad’s Transitional Government of National Unity (GUNT) whom Gaddafi had been militarily supporting since 1983 in a bid to overthrow the Habré regime.
“We were surprised on 2 January 1987 to hear shooting at around six in the morning. At first we thought it was the Sadiqa practicing, as they were stationed right beside us. We did not expect a war that day.
Records now show that the GUNT had rebelled against Gaddafi weeks earlier and were engaged in battle with them in Tibesti in December.
“The Sadiqa forces and Habré’s forces entered together and started shooting randomly and intensely at the Libyan forces. We were not prepared. The tanks and weapons we had were old and couldn’t shoot. My friends fell and died in front of me. I ran up to the mountains with four others. We spent two days there in the desert mountains without water. We saw the bodies of men who had died from thirst.”
The Chad forces surrounded them and started shooting again. Some died, but Kadiki was among those taken prisoner. “There were around 150 other Libyans in the prison in Fada when I arrived, most were wounded.”
They were moved to a big hangar in the capital N’Djamena where those who survived disease and malnutrition remained for three months before being moved again to make room for the increasing number of Libyan prisoners after each battle.
“When we were moved from the hangars to the smaller prison, we were packed twenty into a cell that should fit only ten. People died of a lack of ventilation.” He recalls Bashir Rayani, a prisoner from Tripoli, dying next to him from a lack of oxygen. Gangrene also set in and claimed the lives of many.
Those who survived would talk about the future. “Would Libya save us? Would the Red Cross intervene? We didn’t know until mid-September, after Libya had lost the war and Chad had reclaimed almost all its land. Gaddafi came out and denied that there were any Libyan prisoners in Chad. He denied the whole conflict ever existed.” They heard it on a recording of Gaddafi’s speech, which the Chadians gave to them.
“He denied the existence of a huge number of Libyan soldiers in Chadian prisons. These soldiers, about 1,300 of us, had families in Libya. Uncomfortable in prison, we at least had the dream of our families to keep us going. What did our families have when Gaddafi denied our existence and effaced the whole war? They didn’t know where we were and if we were alive.”
It wasn’t until four years later, in May 1991, that Kadiki, by then in the United States as a member of the Libyan opposition, contacted his family in Libya. “I first called them on 17 or 18 May. Unfortunately, they didn’t recognise me. They had thought I was dead. I called twice and they wouldn’t believe me, not even my mother. I had to describe our home intimately so they would believe me. When I called the third time, my uncle was at the home. We exchanged personal details and he knew it was I, Ibrahim. That affected me a lot. The sadness, the crying, the happiness.”
Kadiki ended up in the United States by way of Zaire and Kenya. He was among the many disenfranchised Libyan prisoners who joined the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) after they heard Gaddafi’s speech denying their existence in Chad. Khalifa Haftar, a colonel in the Libyan army, was among the first to join before rallying his fellow prisoners. “He told us that as Gaddafi had denied our existence, so we would train and form a strong army and enter Libya victorious, a better option than dying in this prison. Those who didn’t join stayed in the Chadian prison. I was one of around 700 that joined the Front.”
The plan didn’t work and over the months members of the NFSL either returned to Libya or moved to the United States. “While in America, I wanted to learn and work and build a future because I was convinced that I am an oppositionist to this (Gaddafi) regime and the abuses I saw. I began my political activities abroad, primarily through the media, to expose the regime.” Once the revolution of February 2011 had begun, Kadiki continued his political activities on the ground in Benghazi, which he had not seen in 24 years.