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ICRC grapples with growth in Afghan wounded, armed groups

The international Red Cross said on Tuesday that the number of Afghan war wounded being treated at the main hospital in the heart of Afghanistan’s conflict-torn southwest has soared to a record high.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned in a statement that its work throughout Afghanistan was becoming even more daunting with a growing number of armed groups operating in the country.

“Our greatest challenge consists in maintaining access to the areas hardest hit by the fighting, but the increase in the number of armed groups is making this much harder for us,” said Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul.

An ICRC spokesman in Geneva, Christian Cardon, told journalists that many of the new groups were “criminal gangs, which are not motivated by politics but by money.”

The ICRC, which prides itself on its neutrality, also reported a “drastic increase” in the number of weapon-related amputations in southern Afghanistan around Lashkar Gah, Helmand province.

Around 30,000 international troops are deployed in the southern Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

About 1,000 patients with weapon-related injuries were registered at the Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar in August and September 2010, almost twice as many as the same period last year, the ICRC said in a statement.

It added that the flow was “hitting record highs.” The humanitarian agency was unable to give a breakdown of the numbers of civilians and combatants among the wounded.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, as those who suffer other sorts of injuries or contract disease as an indirect result of the conflict far outnumber weapon-wounded patients,” said Stocker.

Patients were reaching hospital too late because they were afraid of travelling or being held up by roadblocks, leaving children to die from treatable or preventable diseases such as tetanus, measles and tuberculosis, while women died in childbirth “and otherwise strong men succumb to simple infections,” added Stocker.