Afghan civilians: wrong place, wrong time

The Afghan war is now into its second decade, but its original aims - to crush Al-Qaeda and bring the Taliban to its knees - are no closer to completion amid an escalating nationwide insurgency.

­This year is already shaping up to be the deadliest in the conflict, not only for coalition troops, but for Afghan civilians as well.

Every day on Afghanistan’s southern battlefront brings more casualties.

Despite official claims that the war is being won, 2011 is lining up to be the deadliest yet for US forces fighting to tame the decade-long Taliban insurgency.

But thanks to improved medical capabilities, casualties who would have perished in previous conflicts are surviving. And it is not gunshots that are causing most of the damage – roadside bombs armed to assault patrols and convoys of the allied forces cause a great deal of concussions and fragment wounds among the servicemen.

The trauma ward at Kandahar Airfield is one of the busiest in Afghanistan and when the engagement occurs, the wounded are brought to the place by helicopter Medevac in the shortest time possible.

When the injuries are bad, but not extreme, the wounded will most-likely stay on base until they have recovered. More severe cases – such as amputees – are flown to Germany for treatment.

The Kandahar trauma facility was built to save critically-injured American troops, fresh from the front lines. But doctors here also treat Afghan civilians caught in the war’s crossfire, who have nowhere else to go for help.

Nine-year-old Wali was shot in the head by a stray bullet earlier this year, when US Marines got into a firefight with the Taliban in his village in Helmand province.

The bullet shattered part of his skull, and would have killed him if not for emergency surgery.

In six months, Dr Min Park says he has treated more than a fair share of Afghan bystanders, mostly gunshot and bomb blast victims.

In this follow-up operation, he and his team are reconstructing the boy’s forehead with a titanium mesh that will restore Wali’s appearance.

“It’s always harder to work on kids. You think, ‘What do they have to do with anything that’s going on here?’ It’s also gratifying when you can make a difference,” Dr Min Park says.

In the recovery ward, Wali’s father, Muhammad, says that while he is sure it was a US Marine bullet that hit his son, he is grateful for the first-class treatment he has received.

“I’m just happy that he is OK. The shooting was a mistake, and so it is forgiven,” Muhammad acknowledges.

Accident or not, the enduring insurgency suggests that no amount of goodwill can compensate for civilian casualties that continue to climb each month, in a war that grinds on.