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Dec 3, 2014 5:56 AM

INSIDE KOBANI: War clinic treats anti-IS fighters

The Associated Press

KOBANI, Syria (AP) Like much of this battered Syrian Kurdish border town on the front lines in the battle against the Islamic State group, most of its hospitals and clinics now lie in ruins. Only one is still working but its location is kept secret for fear it could be targeted by the militants.

Inside the tiny field clinic, saving lives and dealing with horrifying wounds of war comes first, and concerns such as keeping operating rooms sterile and cleaning up after surgery are on the back burner.

Blood is splattered across most of the beds and floors, and a small team of only three doctors and five nurses are providing the only remaining medical services in the town. They are sometimes forced to operate by torchlight since power generators regularly fail.

They treat a seemingly unending flood of wounded Kurdish fighters and members of the Free Syrian Army, just meters (yards) away from the front lines.

The Spartan clinic only has the very basic equipment and regularly runs out of supplies. Those with more critical wounds must make a mad dash for the border with Turkey, and wait there for a transport to a better hospital in the neighboring country.

But losing precious time in the perilous journey often diminishes their chances for survival.

"If we had a mobile operating unit, we wouldn't have to leave our wounded at the Turkish border to wait for six or 10 hours where they sometimes die," said Mohammed Aref, a doctor at the Kobani clinic.

An exclusive report shot by videojournalist Jake Simkin inside Kobani late last month offered a rare, in-depth glimpse of the destruction that more than two months of fighting has inflicted on the Kurdish town in northern Syria by the Turkish border.

The Kurdish fighters of Kobani, backed by a small number of Iraqi peshmerga forces and Syrian rebels, are locked in what they say is a fight to the end against the Islamic State group, which swept into the town in mid-September. The militants' advance was part of a summer blitz after the Islamic State group overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Kobani, which once had a population of about 50,000, has seen some of the fiercest urban warfare in Syria's civil war, now in its fourth year, and has paid a heavy price for battling the Islamic State extremists.

Aref and the others at the Kobani clinic say the immobility of their facility slows them down, since they cannot venture far outside and treat the wounded at the scene as paramedics and mobile doctors elsewhere do in combat situations.

Still, Aref is dedicated to saving Kobani's wounded as best he can and dreams of someday rebuilding the town clinics and working in a safe operating theater.

Helped by more than 270 airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition and an American airdrop of weapons, the fighters in Kobani have succeeded in halting the militants' advance and believe that a corner has been turned.

But the fight against the Islamic State is not slowing down.

"We know that the number (of wounded) will increase and more injured will come so we have to be ready," said Aref. "The most important thing for us is having an operating room."


The Associated Press is running a series of five exclusive reports with video, text and photos to illustrate ongoing fighting and daily life inside Kobani, Syria. The fifth part will move on Thursday, Dec. 4.


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