The US is coming under increasing criticism over the rise in civilian casualties during the assault on the Afghan city of Marjah, one of the largest military offensives of the eight-year war. At least nineteen civilians have been killed so far, including six children who died when a missile struck their house on the outskirts of the city. We speak with Matteo dell’Aira, medical coordinator of the Emergency Lashkar Gah hospital. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The US and NATO assault on the Afghan city of Marjah has entered its fifth day. US Marines have called in helicopter gunships for support, as they face heavy gunfire and sustained resistance as they try to gain control of the city.
The assault is one of the largest military offensives of the eight-year war, with some 15,000 Afghan, NATO and US troops taking part.
The US is coming under increasing criticism over the rise in civilian casualties during the operation. At least nineteen civilians have been killed so far, including six children who died when a missile struck their house on the outskirts of the city. The military initially claimed the rocket went off course, but on Tuesday the commander of British forces in southern Afghanistan, Major General Nick Carter, said the missile had hit its intended target.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province said that more 1,200 families had been displaced and evacuated from Marjah and claimed all had received aid in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. But the Italian NGO Emergency released a statement saying dozens of seriously injured civilians are being prevented from reaching its hospital in Lashkar Gah due to NATO military blockades.
Yesterday we spoke with the medical coordinator of the Emergency Lashkar Gah hospital. Matteo dell’Aira is a nurse who has been working in Afghanistan for the past ten years. I began by asking him to describe the scene there in Lashkar Gah.
MATTEO DELL’AIRA: We are seeing a lot of injured people, but very few people comes from the area where the big operation started three, four days ago, because it’s impossible for them — for most of the civilian people, it’s impossible to reach our hospital in Lashkar Gah, that is far from the — from Marjah, more or less forty kilometers.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is preventing them from getting to you?
MATTEO DELL’AIRA: There are a lot of checkpoints, and the coalition forces, it seems that they block the civilians and every kind of movement on the roads. Plus the area has been heavy mined by the opposition, probably. So the civilians — actually, they are in Marjah, inside Marjah, and they cannot reach any medical facilities, which is our hospital, basically.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve heard the report of a house being rocketed by the US military, where six children died and other civilians. What do you know about this operation in Marjah?
MATTEO DELL’AIRA: We don’t know — I mean, I read also in the newspaper in the media about this. But we know very well that this is the collateral effect, if you want, of the war. And despite the fact that some big brain thinks that a war can be a good way to solve problems, this unfortunately is not the reality, because every war is taking a lot of sufferance, a lot of dead people, and the civilians and the population, the majority of the population, is suffering a lot. I don’t know, in the specific, about this accident. I just read it. But two days ago, we received a seven-years-old — seven years old — male with a bullet inside the chest. And for sure, this seven-years-old is absolutely innocent from every perspective.
AMY GOODMAN: Your press release is very strong. It says, “EMERGENCY denounces these severe war crimes perpetrated by the international coalition of forces led by the United States, and calls for a humanitarian route be opened in order to guarantee immediate assistance to the wounded.” And it says that your staff has been notified that dozens of seriously injured civilian victims are unable to be transferred to hospitals due to military blockades, which are impeding vehicles transporting injured victims. Is this true?
MATTEO DELL’AIRA: Yeah, this is true. We had voiced that there were at least, more or less, twenty-two patients that were not able to reach our hospital because it’s blocked. And I can even add that we know very well, Emergency knows very well, and fears, that twenty-two are really, really a very small number of injured. We are sure that in Marjah there is a lot, a lot, a lot of people injured at the moment, much more than what it appears on the media, because every and each war is doing a lot of injured people. Even if some people say that the war can be surgical or can be right or can, as a technique, very precise, we see the effects of the war since more than ten years. And what we saw every time is that there is a lot, a lot of people injured, civilian people injured. Ninety percent of the victims are civilians, and 30 percent of this 90 are children. But I don’t think that the war is a solution for problems. I don’t think at all this. War is not a solution; it is just a tragedy, just a tragedy. And this, we can feel this tragedy every day, twenty-four hours per day, in our emergency room in our hospital.
AMY GOODMAN: Matteo dell’Aira is the medical coordinator of Emergency Lashkar Gah hospital. He has been in Afghanistan for ten years. He was speaking to us from Lashkar Gah.