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Doctors Without Borders Representative Talks About Afghanistan's Escalating Violence


Just how bad is the situation in Afghanistan? Today the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, said the war has entered a new and deadlier phase.


DEBORAH LYONS: This is a clear attempt by the Taliban to seize urban centers with the force of arms. The human toll of this strategy is extremely distressing.

KELLY: Having captured many rural areas, the Taliban is now attempting to take cities as the U.S. works to pull all troops out by the end of the month. In the city of Lashkar Gah, southern Afghanistan, ground fighting and air attacks have killed more than 100 civilians in the last 10 days. In the capital, Kabul, a Taliban bombing on Tuesday killed at least eight people. Today the Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting and killing the director of Afghanistan's Government Information Media Center. Well, let's go straight to Kabul now and speak with Filipe Ribeiro. He is in charge of MSF in Afghanistan - MSF, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders. Welcome.

FILIPE RIBEIRO: Thanks a lot. Good evening.

KELLY: Just to start, big picture, how does the security situation there feel compared to where things were at the start of the summer just a couple of months ago?

RIBEIRO: Well, for a couple of months now, it's getting from bad to worse to - let's say, to say the least, actually, the situation is very bad in most of the cities where we do work. And you just mentioned Lashkar Gah. That is the worst situation we have ever seen for a couple of years in Afghanistan.

KELLY: Yeah. And you have a team there. We tried to reach your team there. And they're so busy trying to help people, trying to treat people that they said, no, you need to talk to our boss in Kabul. What are you hearing from them? What are they describing?

RIBEIRO: A horrific situation. For almost a week now, even more than a week, the fighting is going wild, if I can put it that way, all over the city. It's daily bombings as well as the night that you cannot sleep. They are stuck in the hospital. Basically, we have something like 250 people working in the hospital for 120 patients, more or less. They cannot leave the hospital. They are rushing all over the place, trying to treat patients because, of course, as you can imagine in such a situation, a lot of patients are coming to us, even though we do imagine that not all of the patients can reach, actually, the hospitals. Yeah, the situation they are basically describing to us is daily bombing, air strikes, fighting over - across the hospital and around the hospital. In the compound of the hospital, we do face stray bullets flying all over.

KELLY: Oh, goodness. What kind of injuries is your team seeing?

RIBEIRO: All of the injuries you can imagine - shrapnel, yes, bullet wounds, people being burned by everything. I mean, yeah, it's just horrific what the teams are witnessing. I have to say that I'm really impressed by the dedication of the team and the fact that they're being under the bombs, if I can put it that way, and still performing surgeries, treating patients, taking care not only of war wounded but also pregnant women that are coming in need of a C-section, for instance.

KELLY: What you're describing is consistent with some reporting I have seen that the Afghan army has been on loudspeakers, telling civilians, evacuate; get out, and civilians saying, we can't; we're afraid to go out; we're afraid to leave our homes because the Taliban attacks if we do. It sounds like you're - are you hearing something like that from your team?

RIBEIRO: Yeah. I mean, we all know about this loudspeaker announcements in the street asking people to leave, but to leave to where? And as soon as people get out of houses, the risk is to being caught in the crossfire because every - I mean, all of the parties to the conflict are fighting almost house by house. You can imagine the artillery shelling over and, on top of that, the air strikes that are somehow indiscriminate.

KELLY: May I ask, as you look ahead to these coming weeks and the deadline when U.S. troops will be fully out, how much trepidation do you feel about how much worse things could get?

RIBEIRO: Difficult to say. But if you already look at the map of Afghanistan, you can see that the fight is almost everywhere, and the intensity of the fight is quite different. I don't really know how it might evolve, but to be frank, I think that we are all quite pessimistic.

KELLY: That's Filipe Ribeiro. He leads the Doctors Without Borders mission in Afghanistan, speaking to us there on the line from Kabul. Mr. Ribeiro, thank you.

RIBEIRO: You're welcome. Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.