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American Took Up Arms With Libya's Rebels


The ragtag militias that overran Moammar Gadhafi's hometown included at least one American. Reporter Marine Olivesi spoke with him on several occasions during the battle and sent us this report.

MARINE OLIVESI: At the makeshift cafeteria set up a couple of miles west of Sirte, a young man stands out in the crowd of disheveled fighters. He wears Oakley sunglasses, a helmet on his shaved head, and a khaki bulletproof jacket on a fit body. Then, there's the accent.

KEVIN DAWES: They returned fire with a single mortar tube against our grad batteries, and they managed to score nearly direct hits with their first barrage. And the RPG fire that we're sustaining from these guys, it's concentrated...

OLIVESI: In unusually detailed military language. I asked him if he's Libyan-American.

DAWES: No, actually, I'm just an American.

OLIVESI: Kevin Dawes, 29, is from San Diego, California. He says he's fought for weeks alongside troops loyal to Libya's new authorities. He says he first went to Libya as a medical aid worker in June, but at the end of the summer, he decided to take up arms after pro-Gadhafi forces started targeting medical staff.

DAWES: We actually had an entire ambulance crew dragged out of their ambulance and executed. It was at that point we decided we had no choice. It was either this, or perish here.

MARINE OLIVESI, BYLINE: It was at that point that he added a rifle to his gear, which includes a comprehensive medical kit he imported himself from the States.

DAWES: It's a full medic bag, I have everything I need, including airways, but I can only take part of it with me because it's a little heavy to carry with a rifle.

OLIVESI: Oxygen mask, bandages, chest needles, seals to patch wounds, tubes to start an airway, he's an ambulant field hospital by himself.

What's the most complicated procedure you had to do on the field?

DAWES: Let's see, I had to debride some of these blasts injuries, and also - actually start an I.V. was the most complicated thing that I've done by myself. Generally speaking though, I offer – I assist. I'm more of an ambulance guy than anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Kev', we're leaving, come on.

DAWES: All right, let's go.

OLIVESI: Kevin's style and background might be different than that of most of the fighters here, but his unlikely journey to Sirte was no exception. The anti-Gaddafi forces include many freelance fighters coming from all over the country and beyond. It's a force of volunteers loosely attached to regional militias.

Kevin admits he's not clear about the chain of command between units and which authority he's under, but he says he has one precious skill that served him well during the battle for Sirte.

DAWES: I work counter sniper. Actually, I watch windows and take out people cliquing at us.

OLIVESI: Kevin says he was never in the U.S. military but he does have 10 years of experience as a trained marksman. One NTC fighter has privately tagged Kevin as a war-tourist type. Others believe he's a CIA agent. Kevin says he gets that a lot, but his reasons for being here are actually much more banal.

DAWES: See the world, experience new things, get in way over my head, but, you know, ultimately survive. Do well here, I think.

OLIVESI: For NPR News, I'm Marine Olivesi in Western Libya.


RENEE MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marine Olivesi