Image:Afghan boy Sayd Rahman, 7, who was shot in crossfire near the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, lies on a stretcher at a U.S. Army outpost
Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
Sayd Rahman, 7, who was shot in crossfire near the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, lies on a stretcher at a U.S. Army outpost in the Badula Qulp area of Helmand province.
updated 2/15/2010 7:29:10 PM ET 2010-02-16T00:29:10

Two Afghan men on a motorcycle approached a makeshift camp of NATO and Afghan troops and unloaded a bundle of blankets. American soldiers went into combat mode, throwing on flak vests and helmets and grabbing their rifles. They feared it was a ruse — perhaps a suicide bomber moving in for the kill.

The Afghans raised their robes to show they had no weapons, and unwrapped the bundle. Inside was 7-year-old Sayd Rahman, shot in the chest near Marjah, where U.S. Marines are trying to clear out a bastion of insurgency in one of the biggest operations since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

"He's still breathing, so that's a good thing," said Cpl. Bradley Casey, member of a Canadian military unit that is training Afghan troops in the Badula Qulp region, northeast of Marjah. Forces there are assisting the Marines, impeding Taliban movement in the area.

It's an inevitability of war that the most vulnerable suffer as much or more than the combatants, particularly in the Afghan conflict, where insurgents dress in civilian clothing and melt away into the local population to escape the heavy firepower of their Western foes.

Mistakes occur, although that's little comfort to those who suffer from error.

The scene on Sunday morning appeared to be an example of that, though the details of what happened to the boy were hard to establish. His father, Neck Mohammad, said the boy was caught in crossfire at sunrise near his home, and he wasn't sure who did the shooting.

He and another man said they rode for an hour on a motorbike on bumpy, dirt tracks, with the passenger holding the blanket-wrapped boy. They made it to the military post, a ring of armored vehicles along a canal road where the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment of Task Force Stryker is patrolling.

The soldiers, trained to kill, drew on another set of reflexes: saving a life.

They carried Sayd Rahman into the back of a Stryker infantry vehicle. The bullet wound, about the size of a coin, was in the center of his lower chest, just above the stomach. There was no exit wound, but heavy bruising that indicated internal bleeding. He was not coughing up blood, so his lungs were intact.

Casey, U.S. Maj. Steven Williams of Burlington, N.C., and U.S. Spc. Andrew Szala of Newport, R.I., did their jobs. They put a plastic chest seal with valves on the wound to prevent air entering and building up pressure that could collapse the lungs.

A Canadian soldier radioed for a "bird" — a helicopter — to fly from Camp Bastion, a British base about a five-minute flight away, to evacuate Sayd Rahman for surgery.

Slideshow: Operation Moshtarak The boy called for his father and said he was cold. The medics put heat packs on his arms and legs, and wrapped him in blankets.

"I tried to put a small IV in his arm, but he just wasn't able to take it," Casey said later. "His veins were way too small. So we stopped, because it distressed him too much."

The medics made the boy sit up so that fluid in his chest wouldn't clog up. He leaned against his father.

His bleeding, slow at the beginning, picked up again.

"It's such a long time since he got shot," Williams said after his work was done. "We were worried about shock, and he was starting to show signs of that."

The wound seemed to have come from a 7.62 mm round, but both insurgents and allied troops use that type of bullet, so there was no way to know who did the shooting.

After a little more than 30 minutes, two Blackhawk choppers piloted by the aviation unit of the U.S. Special Forces were clattering overhead. They circled and one landed. In an instant, Sayd Rahman was airborne.

"He's a tough, little guy," said Szala, who was optimistic about the boy's chances. "He wasn't making a word."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Marines on edge

  1. Closed captioning of: Marines on edge

    >> question for another day.

    >>> we are following another major story tonight in afghanistan. one of the biggest battles of the war in its third day, a tough fight to pry the strong hold in helmand province .

    >> reporter: for u.s. marines in marjah, the fight got tougher today. the battle for this taliban strong hold erupting all around them. three days of intense fighting have left their mark. at first sight, no one is trusted. but with a break in the fighting today, the critical battle for hearts and minds has begun. the marines promise medical attention to this man's sun who was wounded in a crossfire. sebastian rich embedded with the marines for nbc news says the strategy is already paying off.

    >> after three days of intensive fighting, the locals of marjah are coming out and telling the marine corps the location of ied's and opium.

    >> reporter: tips led them to 70 million ounces of drugs. the effort to win over the afghans suffered a serious setback sunday when a rocket attack killed nine innocent civilian civilians. the top american commander apologized today but despite the coalition's best efforts, u.s. military officials and analysts see it as a regrettable cost of war.

    >> it was a tragic accident. but these people need to be free of a taliban redoubt and a major drug production center.

    >> reporter: tonight there are still pockets of fierce taliban resistance, meaning the battle for marjah could drag on for weeks. but it's likely to take even longer than that, before we know for sure if president obama 's new military strategy for afghanistan has passed this first critical test. brian?

    >> jim miklaszewski at the pentagon for us tonight.

    >>> we move to huntsville, alabama

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