Afghan amputees a grim signature of more powerful bombs

Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:44am EDT
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - Gently massaging the soft flesh under his knees, 20-year-old Abdul Ahmat recalls the suicide bomb six months ago that destroyed his legs.

The former construction worker, in a wheelchair after his legs were amputated, is among a growing number of Afghans severely wounded by bombs that have grown grimly more powerful than ever before in three decades of conflict.

"I stepped onto the street to head to work, when suddenly I became helpless. I knew I had lost my legs," the father of one said of the attack that killed 13 foreign troops and four Afghans in the capital, Kabul, in October 2011.

Ahmat, who had come to Kabul from relatively peaceful Bamiyan province in search of work, spoke in a Red Cross orthopedic centre, one of the largest in the world and one of seven the humanitarian organization operates in Afghanistan.

The free-of-charge centers log some 6,000 new patients every year, all of them Afghans. Of those, 1,000 are direct victims of war, many grievously wounded by the heightened potency of bombs.

"I can't say that the number of Afghan bomb victims is increasing, but the power of the blasts certainly is," said Alberto Cairo, an Italian physiotherapist in charge of the orthopedic centers. He started his work in Kabul in 1990.

Bombs have changed over the course of the war, experts say, evolving from crude affairs using cheap explosives packed with nails and other bits of metal into relatively more sophisticated devices using fertilizers imported from Pakistan.

Military officials, who did not wish to be identified, said the Taliban are now increasing the chance of infection among victims by covering bombs with urine, feces or blood, leading to an increased likelihood of amputation.   Continued...

A disabled Afghan woman exercises with her prosthetic legs at the Orthopedic Center of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul April 11, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani