Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - Page 12 News List

The legacy of war

Lost limbs and an uncertain future as Afghan army casualties mount and NATO forces withdraw from the country

By Ben Sheppard  /  AFP, GULBAHAR, Afghanistan


General Joseph Dunford, NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, has repeatedly warned that high casualty rates threaten the sustainability of the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces.

But General Mohammed Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the defense ministry, dismissed suggestions that poor medical care left many Afghan army and police feeling abandoned on the frontlines.

“We are coping well with this situation of wounded soldiers, and have enough trained medical staff in every unit. Of course, we are trying to increase capacity,” he told AFP.

“The decline in US helicopters has had an effect on transporting the wounded, but with the arrival of two C-130s (large transport planes) we have been able to compensate to a good extent.”

A NATO spokesman said that the Afghan air force had transported 1,540 battlefield casualties last year — up from only 392 in 2012.

At the orthopedic centre in Gulbahar, the long legacy of war is clear as Sergeant Ahmad learns to master his new leg alongside civilian victims of landmines and discarded ordinance.

Annifar is in to have her artificial leg adjusted, 27 years after she stepped on a Soviet-era mine.

Marzai, 24, tells of how she is now an ICRC trainer after losing a leg 12 years ago when a left-over shell exploded in her village. “I tell new amputees that they are not alone, that they can have a good, full life,” said Marzai.

For Ahmad, it is only the ICRC rehabilitation program and his family’s support that provide a ray of hope.

“I’d like to be useful, to work,” he said. “I have come here to find out whether that might be possible.”

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