Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

An armoured car screeches up to the field clinic outside the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold Raqa and unloads a fighter wounded in the battle to oust the jihadists.

The young member of the Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces is struggling to breathe, with a gaping bullet wound in his chest from an IS sniper.

His colleagues rush him towards the medical team staffing the clinic in the village of Raqa Samra, three kilometres (two miles) from Raqa city.

“There was a Daesh sniper stationed on top of a school, there were heavy clashes,” says his friend, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

He was also lightly wounded and has white bandages on his shoulder.

“My friend lost so much blood before we managed to get him away from the frontline and treat him.”

The US-backed SDF entered Raqa for the first time earlier this month and has so far captured four neighbourhoods in the city.

But it has encountered fierce resistance that has created a steady flow of injured for the clinic outside the eastern front to treat.

One of the team cleans the bullet wound in the fighter’s chest, before quickly dressing it in preparation for his transfer to hospital in Kobane, some two hours away.

He was injured in Raqa’s eastern Senaa neighbourhood, where the SDF has faced periodic IS counterattacks since capturing it last week.

“We participated in the same training course and spent the most beautiful moments together,” his friend says.

“I hope he lives and we go back to fighting again.”

– ‘Do what we can’ –

The medical point is set up in what was formerly a small shop on a deserted street in the village.

It is equipped with little more than a fridge-freezer and metal shelves lined with medicine and other supplies.

After the wounded fighter is sent away, a worker quietly mops the blood from the floor.

The team is run by 48-year-old Akef Kobane, who does his best to stabilise the wounded when they arrive so they will stay alive long enough to reach proper hospitals.

“We do what is necessary to stop the bleeding and put in drips, before the injured are transferred to one of the cities in Rojava,” he says, referring to Kurdish-administered regions in north and northeast Syria.

Dressed in military-style trousers, blue-grey scrubs and a vest, Kobane is not a qualified doctor, having failed to finish his medical studies years ago.

But in 2015, he joined the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which forms the backbone of the SDF, and began working with its medical corps during the battle to oust IS jihadists from Kobane.

He smiles as he works and tries to sound notes of encouragement for the steady flow of wounded fighters from the frontline.

“The surgeon does what he can with tools and capabilities available to him,” he says matter-of-factly.

– ‘Children, women, elderly’ –

Kobane says the key factor for his patients is time.

Sometimes it takes wounded soldiers more than four hours to reach his makeshift clinic, losing a lot of blood along the way.

“Other times they arrive quickly, and even if they are wounded in three places — the chest, hand, and foot — we can still save them. It depends on how quickly they get here.”

Still, Kobane says he hopes to treat fewer injuries than the day before.

His face visibly clouds when he sees a military vehicle carrying a wounded SDF-allied Arab fighter approaching the clinic.

The medical team rips open the militiaman’s trousers, revealing a bloody shrapnel wound.

“We were followed by a drone while we were in the car, and when we got out it targeted us and my friend and I were injured,” Jawad Abdel Alim says while being treated.

“The drone tracked us from the entrance to Raqa to our base, and when we got out of the car, it hit us.”

The clinic also treats civilian residents of Raqa who are injured escaping IS’s grip.

“So far, we’ve received dozens of people who were wounded as they tried to flee Daesh,” said Kobane.

“There have been children, women and elderly people wounded by mines. It’s a difficult situation.”

The work is tiring and the medical team have relatively few resources at hand to deal with often life-threatening injuries.

But morale among the staff remains high, says one team member who nonetheless declines to give his name.

“I’m here as a volunteer to help the SDF and wounded civilians, because our work is for the sake of humanity and to save people.”

Image: Aljazeera