Peacekeeping: The Killer Cure


July 2, 2010: One of the most powerful weapons in Afghanistan is medical care. Normally, there isn't much of it there, with only about 3.5 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 120-180 in most Western nations. The health care shortage in Afghanistan has resulted in the lowest life span (44 years) in Eurasia. U.S. troops have found that one of the easiest way to gain the good will (and useful information) from rural Afghans is to heal the sick, especially children.

The U.S. Special Forces has practiced this technique for over half a century. The Special Forces medics undergo more training (a year or more) than the standard army medic, and are able to cure a lot of afflictions found among populations living in remote areas. When a Special Forces team enters a remote Afghan village, they will offer medical aid. If they have been there before, the villagers will welcome the Americans and line up for treatment. Later, when the team leader sits down to talk with the village elders, the Afghans will feel beholden to the visitors. It's human nature, and the Afghans will, more often than not, give the Americans the information they are asking for (about local Taliban or al Qaeda activity.)

Increasingly, over the past year, the Americans have added another inducement, helicopter transportation (medevac) to a military hospital. This enables treatment of more serious problems, and even more good will. Despite the growing number of NATO casualties (American helicopters provide most of the medevac for everyone), helicopters have limited range. Thus the medevac helicopters (which carry medics to tend to, or treat, casualties in flight) are stationed all over the country, wherever there are NATO troops. Many of the non-U.S. troops are in quiet areas. Compared to the Taliban infested southwest, most of the country is quiet, and the medevac choppers are not used much. So these helicopters are made available to transport ill Afghans to medical hospitals.

The Taliban know what is going on here, and threaten villagers who accept medical aid. But the villagers will stick their necks out and ignore the threats. The Taliban often follow through on their threats, but the Afghans, in this case, don't blame the Americans. Thus the Taliban become even more unpopular, and are sometimes driven out of areas where their retribution triggered the formation of a tribal militia to confront them.

The Taliban, or at least the wealthy drug gang leaders, will also spend a lot of money to bring in medical personnel, or send people to a large city or Pakistan for medical care. But the gangsters cannot compete with the speed and availability of military medical care. Currently, about 70 percent of the medevac missions in Afghanistan are for Afghan security forces or civilians.





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