October 1996 – Living corpses and the lack of personnel With sunset all the mines they digged out are blown up on an unused property near by. To disarm the mines is difficult and too dangerous – blasting so much easier. These mines look very modern to me. With a diameter of less than 10
October 1996 – Living corpses and the lack of personnel
With sunset all the mines they digged out are blown up on an unused property near by. To disarm the mines is difficult and too dangerous – blasting so much easier. These mines look very modern to me. With a diameter of less than 10 centimetres, they are small and compact and completely made of plastic. It is because of this plastic housing that metal detectors cannot be used. Many anti-personnel mines have a sophisticated ignition mechanism. If someone steps on the live mine, only a discreet crack can be heard. Nothing else. Only when you lift your foot again, i.e. load is taken from the mine, the explosives blow up. Since it has been recognised that these mines are insidious weapons and also the vast majority of mine victims are civilians, in April of this year the Federal Minister of Defense announced that the Bundeswehr will immediately renounce anti personal mines. Stocks are to be destroyed.With Kemal and his taxi we are on our way to a big hospital in the district Wazir-Akhbar-Khan. The hospital specialises in the treatment of mine victims. There is hardly any traffic in the city. From time to time pick-up vehicles with fighters of the new government race through the streets. With flapping turban cloths and wide, fluttering trousers – all still armed to the teeth. It is now four days since the Islamists conquered Kabul. Shots can only be heard sporadically, artillery fire no longer at all. I think I hear from time to time some exploding mines. Deliberately triggered to destroy them or by someone stepping on them. I certainly couldn’t tell it apart from the sound.
When we arrive at the hospital, an injured person is being brought in. He is transported on the loading area of a Russian jeep. I haven’t seen real ambulances in Kabul since we arrived here more than two weeks ago. Stolen, destroyed or otherwise needed? I don’t know. Three men drag him out of the vehicle. A stretcher is not ready, so the three carry him to the hospital at a run. In his face blood splatter, one hand wrapped in a bloody cloth, his trousers soaked in blood. Exactly the characteristics I have seen on mine victims during the civil war in Somalia.
After the excitement at the entrance has subsided, we ask our way to the director’s office. He does not speak a foreign language we understand. Kemal, without whom we would not be able to continue at all in the meantime, helps out again. It is no problem at all, translates our driver and interpreter. We are allowed to shoot anywhere and also talk to people – we should better not film only those with the black turbans. A carte blanche for us and at the same time a little criticism of the Taliban? We will see…It seems as if they mainly have these huge “hospital rooms” here, with 20 or more beds in two rows. In Germany fortunately a thing of the past. There are even more than 20 beds in the room we have just entered. All beds are occupied and most are surrounded by women and children – obviously relatives of the patients. Three men in formerly white coats are busy with patients. Orhan is filming. After a few minutes, one of the three approaches us, asking if we speak French. I nod timidly – it’s not much more than school French for me – but Ali is there. Unlike me, he loves the language and speaks it perfectly. The gentleman asking is Dr. Ahmadzai. He is a surgeon, Pashtun and studied in Paris. Orhan has long since adjusted his camera to him and the doctor tells us very briefly what is happening here.
In this room and in two others there are only victims of mines. But there too many patients, so that they often have to lie on mattresses in the corridors. The doctor is mainly busy amputating feet and legs, as the explosive charges often smash the bone to such an extent that it can no longer be repaired. The surgeon is in a hurry, but asks us to accompany him. He would then tell us a little more about his work.So following him, out of this room, a few meters down the corridor into the next one. Even bigger – certainly about 40 patients. The beds are close together, for relatives there is almost only room at the foot end. Dr. Ahmadzai pushes himself through between women and children, chases them away with harsh words and looks at the medical sheet of a man who gives the impression of being more dead than alive. “He was brought two days ago, but had probably been lying where it happened for at least one day, without any help being nearby.” The man is unusually pale, breathing is visibly difficult. Of course there is no oxygen connection on the wall – not even a socket. “I had to remove one leg above his knee and one foot on the other side. He probably doesn’t know about the foot yet. What he probably doesn’t know either is that he no longer has testicles. They were both destroyed by the pressure of the explosion.” It is rarely talked about: a large proportion of men who are injured by anti-personnel mines also lose one or both of their testicles.
Remnants of bandages, old rags, used bedpans, kidney shells, cut hair, blood stains and a lot of dirt on the floor. As far as the frightening narrowness allows, I see relatives at some beds washing a patient or giving him something to eat. In one of the freshly operated, a tube of the infusion has come loose, the crystal-clear liquid no longer drips into his veins but onto the floor. Nobody cares. Dr. Ahmadzai has disappeared, no one who could be recognised as a nursing staff in the room. Just put the tube back on the cannula? I don’t dare, the word “air embolism” buzzes through my head. In the hallway I try to find a nurse or a caregiver. In vain. For minutes I rush through the corridors, then find the French-speaking doctor. “Yes, yes, I’ll be back with you in two minutes,” he says as he races past. Probably he was called somewhere for an emergency. Another emergency.After a few minutes he is actually back in the 40-bed room and reconnects the drip to the patient’s blood circulation. “I have to eat something. Come with me, then we can talk for a few more minutes,” translates Ali from French. After a few steps we land in a room that is probably supposed to be a doctor’s room. A large table with six chairs in the middle, two smaller tables on the wall. A gas stove on one of the small tables. Something like a camping stove, where you screw the burner directly onto the gas bottle. Above the flame there is a spherical pressure cooker. The surgeon closes the gas tap, lets the steam pressure hiss out of the pot and then spoons something onto a plate that looks like a lentil soup with potatoes and small pieces of meat. It smells delicious. We didn’t ask the doctor, but Orhan shoots and it looks like it’s okay.
“Why aren’t there any nurses at all in the large wards?” I want to know. Dr. Ahmadzai continues to chew on his lens stew and looks at me with a little scepticism. “You’re seriously asking that? Exactly four days ago, from one moment to the next, we lost 80 percent of our staff in the men’s ward. Since then we are not allowed to employ female nurses anymore. Only male nurses.” On the women’s ward, which is quite small anyway, he continues, we could now have three nurses per patient. Here, where the men are treated, we now have around 50 patients per nurse. “And, can you still treat all the injured and half-dead sensibly at all?” And the answer comes brutally: “No, there will be lots of unnecessary deaths.”
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 20 August 2019. It’s title will be “October 1996 – An Interview with Mullah Omar’s Deputy”. New chapters will follow fortnightly – more than 60 will be published in total. Please scroll further down for subscription.
Dieter Herrmann, the author of this Afghanistan diary, lives in Australia, reports from there for German television stations and is editor-in-chief of the only German-language newspaper in Australia. He is known as a media trainer for radio and television stations all over the world as well as media trainer for senior managers, officers and pilots. To get in touch with the author and for further information on media training by Dieter and his crew please use the “contact”-button or send an email to dieter(at)australia-news.de (please replace the (at) with the @-sign!)
My first trip to Afghanistan started in the early summer of 1973. Since then I have been to the country at the Hindu Kush more than 100 times and in total have spent several years in Afghanistan. I got to know all political systems from the kingdom up to the today’s Islamic Republic. In about 60 chapters, based on diaries and memories, I describe my experiences in the country, which has not come to a rest since 1973. Among many other experiences, I was arrested and imprisoned twice during this time, had to live temporarily in the bunker of the Turkish embassy and had an amazing interview with Mullah Muttawakil, the personal spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar and later Taliban Foreign Minister. I describe my personal feelings and doubts as well as political and human events, movements in the population and developments in the country. Nothing about this manuscript has been invented or added – however, to avoid endangering anyone, I left out some of my experiences. I changed some names to protect friends and informants. Whether the last chapter will ever be finished is questionable. I was supposed to be back in Kabul in 2018, but the security situation is so bad that my clients are unlikely to get me into the country. “German media trainer murdered by Taliban” would be a catastrophic headline for everyone involved. Dieter Herrmann
Translation from German to English with the help of www.deepl.com