Kandahar trauma unit

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that casualties will increase as the US led NATO force in Afghanistan conducts a major offensive in the southern province of Kandahar this summer and fall. June has been the deadliest month for international forces since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001. Nowhere is the violence more apparent than at the trauma ward at Kandahar Airfield. Ben Gilbert reports.

JEB SHARP: I'm Jeb Sharp and this is The World. The change of commanders in Afghanistan does not affect U.S. commitment to the fight there. That's what Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon today. He also said overall U.S. strategy won't change, even if the new commander might tweak it a bit. General David Petraeus is stepping in as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at a very delicate time. American and NATO troops are preparing for a key offensive in Kandahar Province. Casualties are already high now. June has been the deadliest month for international forces since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001. Nowhere is the violence more apparent than at the trauma ward at Kandahar Air Field. Ben Gilbert is embedded with U.S. troops there and sends this report. Please be aware this story contains graphic descriptions that some may find disturbing.

BEN GILBERT: The American flags at Kandahar Air Field have flown at half mast most days this month. That means the body of an American service member is on base waiting to be flown back to the U.S. The 12 bed emergency trauma center here at Kandahar Air Field is in high demand. U.S. Navy Commander Mike Mullins runs day to day operations at the hospital. He says as more troops have been deployed into and around the Taliban spiritual heartland of Kandahar, casualties have increased.

COMMANDER MIKE MULLINS: The last two weeks have been very busy. We always hope for no casualties, but again, you will take care of who shows up.

GILBERT: Most patients arrive by medevac helicopter, the Army's air ambulance that ferries wounded troops in from the field. On a recent morning, the first soldier arrived at 8:43 a.m. He was on a patrol searching for IED's. A bomb went off under his vehicle. About 70% of troop casualties are caused by these improvised explosive devices. The helicopter drops him off about 500 feet from the hospital. An ambulance brings him to the door. His leg was broken. He's stabilized and will be okay. A half hour later two other soldiers arrive from the same unit. They had been securing the helicopter landing zone for the first soldier when another IED went off. One has shrapnel to the face, the other to the neck. It's 9:04 a.m. The roll the patient with the head wound inside the trauma center and get to work. The man's face is full of blood. A piece of shrapnel tore open the front of his right thigh, then burrowed a quarter-sized hole into his left inner leg. And his skull is fractured, an x-ray shows. But the fact that he was talking and moving around when he first arrived is a good sign. He was eventually flown to Germany and expected to survive, but also to lose his eye from the shrapnel wound. As the team finishes working on him, Commander Mullins tells me there's another patient on the way.

MULLINS: We just know it got posted.

GILBERT: So its 9:40 in the morning and this is the third call of the morning?

MULLINS: Yeah, third call. It's an IED blast.

GILBERT: Four NATO troops in the Kandahar area were wounded by IED's in about a two hour time frame on this day. The next morning brings more of the same. The hospital staff rolls three Afghan police officers in on stretchers. They were wounded in a blast. One policeman's heart is not beating. Both his legs are broken, his body is limp and pale. The trauma team works frantically to revive him. They cut open his chest and the doctor begins massaging the patient's heart with his hand. Lieutenant Colonel Rob Stiegelmar, a Canadian doctor here, says it's called cardiac massage.

MALE VOICE 1: You can see his hand moving, squeezing the heart directly. So it's more efficient CPR than pushing on the chest. This is only done if someone loses vital signs within 10 minutes.

GILBERT: They do get the heart working again. They try to shock him to get a steady beat. But after 20 minutes, one of the man's pupils is dilated. They make the call to stop resuscitating the police officer. The doctors declare him dead a few minutes later. The trauma center here takes all comers, Afghan troops. U.S. service men, locals and even insurgents. So there is little question with the build up of troops and an expected increase in violence, that the hospital staff will find themselves working at this pace for many months to come. For The World, I'm Ben Gilbert at the Role 3 Hospital at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan.