Over the course of my 18-day US military embed in Southern Afghanistan this month, I picked up on growing unease amongst the troops.
The latest policy initiatives coming from Washington these days pose enormous challenges. Come hell or high water, the US is bent on accelerating the handover of power to Afghan institutions.
That extends to the fledgling Afghan health care system, as we saw when we caught up with the American medics of the 82nd Airborne’s Combat Aviation Brigade at Kandahar Air Field. We spent less than a week in total with these daring-do rescuers, capturing on tape more of the war’s tragic side than we could ever possibly use.
The dilemnas these medics face – of transporting Afghan patients to US or Afghan hospitals – cuts to the very core of the medical profession’s Hypocratic Oath of “do no harm”.
Off camera, I was told that sending wounded Afghan security forces to their own hospitals was tantamount to a “death sentence”.
Their rate of success often depends on whether or not family members can accompany them from the hinterlands to the less-than-spartan handful of hospitals located around the country.
The largest hospital is in Kabul, many hours away from the Southern reaches where the casualties are coming from. Soldiers told me that Afghan patients would often die of infection or even malnutrition if family members were not with them, as the Afghan hospitals lack staff to change bandages and serve food.
Those basic capabilities are a pittance when one considers the US and ISAF are asking these Afghans to take on the enormous risks of defending the widely unpopular Karzai government. Too bad we don’t hear a mention of a “medical” surge. The Afghans could really use it.