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Number Of Afghan Amputees On The Rise

FILE: An Afghan man fixes his son's artificial leg frame received from ICRC's orthotopic center in Kabul.
FILE: An Afghan man fixes his son's artificial leg frame received from ICRC's orthotopic center in Kabul.

KABUL, -- Mahmud is bedridden. The 14-year-old’s legs are paralyzed after a mortar round hit his family’s mud house in Ghorband, a rural district in Parwan Province near the capital, Kabul, which was caught in the crossfire between Afghan forces and Taliban insurgents.

“We were sitting in our house when a mortar shell landed,” Mahmud, who like many Afghans goes by one name only, told Radio Free Afghanistan of the night that changed his life irreversibly. “Five children were killed by the blast, and three were injured. I was one of them.”

Mahmud is among the countless victims of the four-decade war in their country that has left millions killed and maimed. Like tens of thousands of other Afghans in need of help, his family turned to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for rehabilitation.

Some 70 Afghan victims like Mahmud seek help daily at an ICRC orthopedic rehabilitation center in Kabul. Seven such centers across Afghanistan are working to provide a record number of Afghans with artificial limbs, wheelchairs, crutches, other devices, and physiotherapy sessions.

Six-years ago, Nasir was injured near a busy Kabul square when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest close to the car taking him and three brothers to school. The 13-year-old still uses crutches, and his left leg remains bandaged and supported by a metal brace.

“I am struggling to regain the strength to do all the activities I did before this calamity hit me,” he said. “Three of us four brothers traveling in the car were injured. Another student accompanying us was also injured. Our driver was also wounded, and our car was punctured by the blast.”

The increase in civilian casualties in recent years has prompted the ICRC to expand its rehabilitation operations in Afghanistan. The center in Kabul alone makes some 50 artificial limbs and other devices daily. The ICRC says that a record 12,000 people sought assistance at its physical rehabilitation centers last year.

Najmudin Helal, the head of the ICRC orthopedic center, estimates that they will register up to 15,000 new patients seeking rehabilitation by the end of this year.

“Most of the victims we have seen are men who endure injuries in attacks and fighting,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “They are followed by women and children.”

The ICRC makes between 7,000 and 8,000 artificial limbs annually. The grim statistic reflects the price Afghans are paying in life and limbs for the war in their country.

Sher Bacha, in his 30s, lost both legs during intense civil war battles in the late 1990s. With the help of ICRC rehabilitation and a wheelchair he has gained some mobility, but he longs for a time when the war in Afghanistan will be over.

“Enough of this war. We already have seen so many martyrs, and so many of us are maimed. We have seen nothing but poverty and suffering,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I want to call on the warring sides to immediately stop fighting.”

Afghanistan continues to be home to the one of the deadliest armed conflicts in the world. Tens of thousands of Afghan combatants and civilians are killed in the country each year. The United Nations Assistance Mission recorded a total of 1,366 civilian deaths and 2,446 injuries in the first six months of 2019. With more than 1,500 civilian casualties, the organization recorded a sharp increase in civilian casualties in July.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Feroza Azizi and Javed Hassanzada in Kabul, Afghanistan.