Afghans Carry On Freedom Fight From Hospital Beds

Times Staff Writer

His sunken eyes and graying hair belie Baryali’s 26 years. Along with hollow cheeks and slight frame, they are a testament to the war he fights to rid Afghanistan of Soviet occupation.

In the United States, where he is being treated at AMI San Dimas Community Hospital for a hearing loss suffered in a bomb blast, Baryali is fighting a different kind of war--making the public aware of his people’s plight.

“Unfortunately, the free world has not given us enough help,” Baryali said through a translator at a press conference Monday. He was flanked by bandaged cohorts.

“Help us only to get rid of the Russians and become independent. You believe in freedom and we believe in it,” Baryali said. Like other patients from his country, he uses only his first name out of fear of reprisal when he returns home.


Four Medical Airlifts

Baryali was among 19 Afghans brought to the United States last week by the U.S. government, which paid for four airlifts of patients who require better medical care than they can get in their homeland or neighboring Pakistan. Seven of the 19 patients were brought to Southern California through the efforts of the California Committee for a Free Afghanistan and Rep. David Dreier (R-Covina), who asked four area hospitals to donate medical services. The patients range in age from 16 to 32.

Three of them are being treated at the San Dimas hospital, two at Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina, one at Pomona Valley Community Hospital and another at Orthopaedic Hospital of Los Angeles.

“The top priority is to patch these people up,” Dreier said. “The second is to increase the anger and awareness of the free world.”


Congressman Lends Clout

Dreier, who is running for reelection this year, said he is not seeking publicity personally but is trying to use his office to “focus attention on the plight of people who are faced with horrendous problems.”

The Afghan rebels have been fighting since 1979, when the Soviets invaded to help Afghanistan’s Communist government ward off challenges by insurgents.

News reports estimate there are 120,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan, fighting with the national army to suppress the anti-government rebels, or moujahedeen. And Afghan Communist leader Najib, who goes by only one name, recently ordered a buildup in the national army to fight the rebels.


But Baryali and his countrymen remain tenacious.

“It’s our faith in God, it’s our belief in freedom, it’s our strong belief in human dignity and self-determination,” Baryali said from his hospital bed.

When the war began, Baryali said, he was 19 and working in a textile factory to help support his family. He said he joined the fight when he saw the Soviets attack defenseless villages and rape the women.

Five of his relatives, including a brother, have been killed in the war, he said, adding, “There is no single family which has not lost two or three family members.”


Atrocities Described

Other patients described atrocities against women and children that made them all the more determined to continue their fight.

“When they capture women and children alive, they line them up alive and tell the tanks to run over them,” said Kheyal, 32, who is being treated at the San Dimas hospital for a gunshot wound to his head; he received the wound four years ago.

“This I’ve seen with my own eyes,” Kheyal said through the translator.


About 80% of the people wounded in the war are women and children, according to Moriah Lucas, director of the California Committee for a Free Afghanistan, but they make up only a small portion of the 150 patients who have been brought to this country for treatment during the two years since Project Medevac was started by the national Committee for a Free Afghanistan in Washington.

Those who come to the United States are selected by the International Medical Corp. Lucas said that children are often too weak to make the trip. And women, she said, are prohibited by their Islamic belief from traveling without a male escort. The national Committee for a Free Afghanistan is working to establish a clinic for mothers and children in Afghanistan, Lucas said.

The rebels’ world is consumed by the fighting, said Pachayee, 32, another patient at the San Dimas hospital who is being treated for a gunshot wound he suffered in the hip seven months ago.

“There is no time for praying, there is no time for school,” Pachayee said. When they awaken, wives and children of the fighting men hide in caves until dark. Pachayee said his wife and three children have spent the last two years in one of at least 300 refugee camps located in a no man’s land on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the United States, the patients cannot forget the battle back home. They plead for military aid. “But it must be unconditional. We do not want to become a Vietnam,” Pachayee said. They also want money to build a hospital in the border zone or in Pakistan.


Would Be a Target

“Then that would, of course, become the No. 1 target of the Soviet Union,” responded Dreier, who accompanied the patients to the press conference.

“So let them bombard us. . . . That’s nothing unusual for the Russians,” Baryali retorted. “Your government, your people should become more worried about us. The majority of the people needing help are there.”

After they leave the hospital, the patients will stay with Afghan families in Upland, Montclair and Woodland Hills. They are expected to be here for several weeks to allow physicians to monitor their recoveries.


But when the rebels return to Afghanistan, they will fight a war to which they see no end.

“We will fight until the last woman that can use an ax,” Baryali said.