War casualties soar in south Afghanistan-Red Cross

Tue Oct 12, 2010 5:19pm IST

* Number of war-wounded in Kandahar hospital at record high

* Deteriorating security complicates aid delivery, ICRC says

* Increasing number of armed groups makes ICRC access harder

GENEVA, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Security is deteriorating in Afghanistan, creating more war casualties and making it harder for aid agencies to reach people in need of food, water and health care, the Red Cross said on Tuesday.

In the southern city of Kandahar, Mirwais regional hospital registered nearly 1,000 war-wounded patients in August and September, record highs and double the number in the same period a year ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

"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 Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul.

Mothers often bring children suffering from treatable diseases such as tetanus or tuberculosis to hospital too late as they are afraid to travel or face roadblocks. Women die alone giving birth and healthy men succumb to simple infections.

The ICRC has opened a new limb-fitting centre in Helmand province, its seventh in the country, with a capacity to treat more than 1,500 mine victims and other patients a year, it said.

Armed opposition groups across Afghanistan are also increasingly fragmented or splintered, according to the neutral humanitarian organisation, which said it was in dialogue with "all parties to the conflict", including NATO-led international forces.

"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," Stocker said.

ICRC spokesman Christian Cardon, speaking to reporters in Geneva, declined to be specific, but said: "There are foreign elements but also Afghan nationals. They are all over the country, but even more in the north."

It is important to maintain contact with these sub-groups, some of them criminal in nature, as U.S. and other foreign forces will eventually leave the country, he said.

The Taliban have gained strength in recent years and spread to the previously peaceful north despite the presence of nearly 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. [ID:nSGE69AOY2]

The ICRC also regularly visits places of detention run by Afghan authorities, international forces and U.S. forces, and since last year also visits people detained by the "armed opposition". (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tim Pearce)

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