Afghan army successes cannot mask fears of what happens when US goes

Six and a half years ago, when Abdul Baseer first started treating wounded Afghan soldiers in southern Afghanistan, he worked out of a small wooden hut which served as his office, pharmacy, surgery and sleeping quarters. He shared it with four other medics.

Now he has a gleaming, 100-bed military hospital that can do “everything except neurosurgery”. Nearly every Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier who is wounded in southern Afghanistan comes through his hospital at the sprawling, and equally new, base of the 205th “Hero” Corps outside Kandahar City.

He says he has seen clear progress in the war, with a definite tilt against the Taliban on the battlefield – last year’s intensive military operations to clear insurgent strongholds has led this year to a 50% fall in the number of patients, he says.

But ask Dr Baseer if he thinks the ANA is anywhere near ready to go it alone, without the help of American troops, and he lets out a panicked shout of “No!”

“These improvements can’t be sustained without their help,” he said.

As with many others, Baseer is waiting for Barack Obama’s announcement about how many of the US surge troops will be withdrawn this year with some trepidation.

“My biggest worry is when transition happens we won’t be able to fly patients directly from the battlefield to the hospital,” he said. “We have to rely on the Americans for that.”

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