By Tad Gerlinger, MD
My first deployment was to Kosovo with Task Force Falcon, Operation Joint Guardian, in 2001. Three weeks after 9/11, I was deployed from Fort Bragg with the 274th Forward Surgical Team (Airborne) — the first FST sent into Afghanistan — for Operation Enduring Freedom. Two years later, I was part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the initial actions of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And I returned to Afghanistan in 2011 with the 936th Forward Surgical Team and served with the Norwegian Provincial Reconstruction Team. That was my last deployment.
In armed conflict, the vast majority of casualties and injuries are the locals — the civilian population. That was true for the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq back when I served, and it’s true today in countries like Syria. What’s happening in Syria with ISIS, where they’re using human shields, was very common for Al Qaeda, too.
In 2011, our special mission unit went in to get a high value target in northern Afghanistan. After our soldiers surrounded the compound, they asked the enemy to send out all of the noncombatants. As soon as all of the women and children had come out into the courtyard and our soldiers had gone out to secure them to safety, the enemy threw grenades at the entire group. So the majority of the casualties from that mission were women and children — and, of course, our soldiers were injured trying to protect the families of the men who threw the grenades.