In Kabul clinic, Taliban and the soldiers they fought confront wounds of war

Kabul (Reuters) – Former Taliban fighter Mohammad Ishaq, who spent years battling Western troops and local forces in Afghanistan, lost his leg in combat and is now learning to walk with a new limb. Standing near him at a Kabul clinic is one of the soldiers he defeated.

In the Red Cross Hospital in Kabul, Ishaq spoke simply of the eight years he spent in Helmand, the southern province where some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place and where thousands of civilians and combatants were killed and maimed.

“For years we fought against the infidels and we defeated them and I was injured,” he said, wearing the traditional black turban worn by many Taliban during their 20-year insurgency.

That rebellion turned to conquest in August when the hardline Islamist militants advanced on Kabul and seized the capital. At the same time, the last foreign troops were withdrawing and what little resistance there was from local Afghan forces quickly wilted.

Ishaq waited as an instructor fitted a new artificial limb to replace the left leg he lost to a bullet wound, before striding across the long exercise hall watched by medical staff and patients from both sides of the conflict.

With Afghanistan in deep economic crisis and its health service in disarray, the Red Cross, with decades of experience treating the war’s victims, is one of the few centres that can supply prosthetic limbs.

“They help all people in need; whatever the people need they provide,” Ishaq said.

The staff are used to treating Taliban fighters, said Alberto Cairo, an Italian physiotherapist with three decades of experience in Afghanistan who leads the orthopaedic programme for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“There were Taliban coming here, but very few and secretly. Now they come very openly, so we have many, every day 10-15, they come for different reasons,” he said. “We help them like we help everybody.”