‘Unexpectedly high number’ of babies and children passed to troops in Kabul

A British Army surgeon has told of how he used his experience as a new father to settle a baby passed over a wall to troops in Kabul, amid an “unexpectedly high number” of children handed over to troops.

Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Caesar, a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon from 16 Medical Regiment, Royal Army Medical Corps, has been working in a hospital set up for injured personnel and Afghans going through the evacuation process at Kabul airport.

And he said the injuries he had been treating ranged from gunshot injuries, flashbang injuries, and people who have been crushed in the crowd, to those who had run out of medication and those suffering in the heat.

“There have also been an unexpectedly high number of children being passed to us and being dealt with by the hospital,” Lt Col Caesar said.

“The baby that was handed over the wall to the US Marines ended up here at the Role 2 hospital, and amongst many other children that were separated from their parents, were looked after by the staff here in the Role 2.”

Viral images have shown babies and young children being handed over to troops, often over walls topped with barbed wire at Kabul airport.

“Both the Norwegians, the US and ourselves took turns taking care of those children and offering them the pastoral care that they needed while they waited to be either shipped on to a safe destination or reunited with their parents,” Lt Col Caesar said.

Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan
Ministry of Defence handout photo of passengers disembarking a Royal Air Force Voyager after arriving at RAF Brize Norton from the Middle East (SAC Samantha Holden RAF/PA)

And he said the baby who had been passed over the wall to US Marines to avoid being crushed, believed to be between two and three months old, had struggled to settle while being fed by a colleague.

He said: “As a recent father of a 14-month-old, I have a little more experience of dealing with small children, and so we took her for a walk, walked around the hospital, managed to burp her a few times.

“She seemed to settle, and she then sat with me for another half an hour.

“So while she gently settled down, and she was handed on to one of the nursing staff who managed to rock her off to sleep.

“That baby I believe has now been reunited with her mother, and she was moved on to a safe location outside of Afghanistan.”

Lt Col Caesar said although he never knew what was going to come through the door – and the numbers of people coming through were “much higher than expected” – he felt it was “absolutely necessary” that troops were in Afghanistan.

“I don’t think anyone foresaw the crushing sea of humanity at the gate and how they were going to be affected by the situation.

“There was also the unpleasant situation where people got onto the runway.

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“We were very concerned at that point that we will be dealing with large numbers of casualties that could have overwhelmed this facility.”

Lt Col Caesar was first deployed to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan 18 months after enrolling as an Army reservist in 2011. After returning, he transferred to full-time regular service.

He said success for the troops would mean “no coalition forces significantly injured or left behind, no injured UK service personnel, and as many Afghan nationals who wish to leave being brought to safety”.

And added: “It’s so sad to see all this ongoing human suffering but conversely when people are at their lowest, we are able to help them.”