The first casualties

A 16-year-old Afghan food vendor whose foot was blown off by a U.S. bomb lies in a decrepit hospital in Pakistan.

By Sean Kenny

Published October 9, 2001 6:08PM (EDT)

There was no electricity in Hayathabad hospital, Peshawar, and Assadullah's ward was pitch-black and very hot. By the light of a cigarette lighter, I saw bloody bandages wrapped around the boy's arms and legs, and there was a large round bandaged stump where his left foot should have been.

According to Assadullah, 16, he is apparently one of the first victims of the raids on Afghanistan Sunday night. At the time, he had just taken a break from working at his French fries stand in Jalalabad when the town was hit by cruise missiles. "I was thrown 50 feet by the blast. When I woke up I was in Jalalabad hospital," he said. "My father had found me and taken me there."

Assadullah is apparently one of just a few casualties to make it over to the Pakistan side, and to Hayathabad hospital, though reports of civilian injuries dominated the day's news from the region. Four workers at a United Nations-funded mine-clearing operation just east of Kabul were killed, according to the U.N., the first independent confirmation of civilian deaths inside Afghanistan. Taliban representatives were claiming that civilian deaths from the first day of bombings ranged from 8 to 20.

According to Assadullah, the explosion ripped off his left foot and two fingers on his left hand. His right knee and foot were also badly wounded. He bit his lower lip as he described waking up in Jalalabad hospital on Monday. "In the morning I felt extremely lonely and scared. There were no doctors or nurses in the hospital. I felt totally alone."

By Monday afternoon his family had found a taxi willing to take Assadullah to the border, where, he said, his father had to plead with soldiers to let them enter Pakistan. Finally, Assadullah and his father were allowed through and made it to the hospital in Hayathabad, 35 miles from the border.

"My father is here with me but my mother and sisters are still in Afghanistan," he said. "I lay here and worry about them."

Hayathabad hospital is a decrepit and depressing place. Tonight the electricity was down, despite the fact that just half a mile away the neon signs were flashing outside the burger joints and boutiques frequented by Peshawar's middle classes. Some wards were lit with candles; in other wards -- like Assadullah's -- men lay in the dark as relatives fanned them with newspapers. There was little medical equipment and few doctors or nurses attended to the patients.

In the emergency ward, eight policemen surrounded a man with blood-caked bandages on his head and patches of dried blood on his face.Heavy chains shackled him onto the hospital trolley.

"Islam zinderbad! America murtzabad!" -- long live Islam, death to America -- he cried, thrashing his head from side to side.

The policemen said that the man had been found wandering Peshawar carrying a hand grenade. He escaped once, but the police recaptured him and beat him with their batons.

"Then we put the grenade in his mouth and asked him if we could pull out the pin," said one of the policemen.

In another stuffy hospital ward Mohammad Raza, 35, lay on his back with his shirt open, panting heavily and staring at the ceiling. His cousin, who had brought him to Pakistan on Monday, said that Raza had been getting out of his car at his farm near Jalalabad airport on the first night of the attacks when a bomb landed nearby. Some kind of debris or shrapnel had hit him in the neck.

"Now he is a full paraplegic, paralyzed from the neck down," his cousin said. "There's no chance of him ever walking or using his hands again. He doesn't want to speak to you himself because he is afraid he is dying."

Israralik Khan, a hospital dispensing chemist, said: "We don't know if more people will come, but we are prepared."

Sean Kenny

Sean Kenny is a British freelance writer.

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