An ex-army nurse who served in a hospital in Afghanistan on Tuesday said he was traumatised by the horrific injuries he witnessed more than 15 years ago.
Veteran Said El Banna, 40, spoke to The National as the Taliban seized back control of the country, nearly 20 years after US forces invaded in late 2001.
As a medic in the US Army, specialist El Banna was attached to the 10th Mountain division and worked as a nurse in the intensive care unit in the hospital in Bagram airfield, 70 kilometres north of Kabul.
The US military set up a vast base there in 2001, expanding it to house thousands of troops. The last US soldiers left last month, leaving behind hundreds of vehicles, arms, ammunition, food supplies, and reportedly, a prison holding 5,000 Taliban inmates.
The injuries Mr El Banna treated during his year-long tour in 2005 still cause him trauma – he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder – and he said he feared for Afghanistan's future under the Taliban.
"We saw a lot of violence against women. One new mother and child we treated had been set on fire by her husband," said Mr El Banna, who lived in the UAE for 14 years after leaving the US military in 2004.
"You can only imagine the kind of things I saw in the ICU in a war zone, all the atrocities committed by the Taliban, failed assassinations," he said.
"One day we treated children who had been playing soccer with a landmine and it exploded. We couldn't save them.
"Since I left after my tour, I haven't worked as a nurse."
A bleak future
The US and its allies spent 20 years in Afghanistan, with the aim of ousting the Taliban and Al Qaeda and replacing them with a democratically elected government that respected human rights and allowed girls to be educated and women to work.
Now the Taliban are back in control, many Afghans and foreign policy analysts fear the progress of the last two decades could be lost.
Mr El Banna, who lives in Cincinnati and works as a PR professional, has mixed feelings over the American withdrawal.
"Frankly, I'm conflicted about it. On one hand, I'm happy that this is over but at the same time we can't just pick up everything and leave – who does that?" he said.
"If you run a country for 20 years you need to take responsibility. I've seen what the Taliban can do. They're going to go back to the Stone Age."
The personal impact of the war on those who fought and served there should not be forgotten, said Mr Al Banna, who was 25 when he started his tour in Afghanistan.
"At first everybody was excited, in a way, because we were going to bring an end to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden," he said.
"That is why am so furious. I wasted a year of my life over there, for nothing."