15 May 2009

Tiny steps in Paktika

Somehow I think Captain Boris, for whom the FOB was named, would like this story.

U.S. soldiers search for midwife in Afghan war zone

Down a dirt alley a half-mile from Forward Operating Base Boris - a no-frills bastion that houses several hundred U.S. and Afghan troops behind 10-foot-high, sand-filled walls with a pair of 145 mm mortars at the center - American soldiers slinked like cats on the prowl.

Each was separated from the next by 30 feet to avoid suicide attacks, while Maj. Yince Loh, a 36-year-old brain surgeon from Los Angeles, searched for the home of an Afghan midwife.

A local pharmacist had given Loh her name. Both men hoped that the woman could help them open a small clinic to help address the health care needs in Paktika, one of the poorest and most dangerous of Afghanistan's eastern provinces.

Their task is made more difficult because a barren tribal region spans the mountainous border into Pakistan, where Taliban insurgents, backed by al-Qaida paymasters, plot to destroy U.S. forces' good deeds and outreach efforts. ...

Loh, who's worked with U.S. special forces fighting Islamic extremists in the Philippines, wants to introduce basic medical and nutritional development projects to Bermel's district center, which has open sewers and no electricity or running water.

"Right now, we can't help the Afghan government come in here and build a big Afghan clinic," Loh said. "But we have some options and we are still looking for midwives to help.

"Our goals are incremental: to improve infant mortality step by step. That will certainly help improve perceptions of the government." ...

In the Waziristan region, however, which extends into Paktika province, the enemy openly mingles day and night with the local population. Health workers seen or thought to be siding with U.S. or Afghan security forces become targets of the Taliban's wrath. Last year, militants kidnapped one midwife and shot another dead.

A firefight between the Taliban and U.S. special forces just to the south echoed in the distance as Loh and soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne), part of the 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska, stepped inside the small wooden clinic of a midwife named Shamshad.

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