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From right, Yama Akramyar, team manager of the Afghanistan team and athletes Nasrullah Safi, Ahamd Shah Azimi and Naser Halimi talk about the training conditions in Afghanistan for their Wounded Warriors.

From right, Yama Akramyar, team manager of the Afghanistan team and athletes Nasrullah Safi, Ahamd Shah Azimi and Naser Halimi talk about the training conditions in Afghanistan for their Wounded Warriors. (Ken-Yon Hardy/Stars and Stripes)

From right, Yama Akramyar, team manager of the Afghanistan team and athletes Nasrullah Safi, Ahamd Shah Azimi and Naser Halimi talk about the training conditions in Afghanistan for their Wounded Warriors.

From right, Yama Akramyar, team manager of the Afghanistan team and athletes Nasrullah Safi, Ahamd Shah Azimi and Naser Halimi talk about the training conditions in Afghanistan for their Wounded Warriors. (Ken-Yon Hardy/Stars and Stripes)

From right, Yama Akramyar, team manager of the Afghanistan team and athletes Nasrullah Safi and Ahamd Shah Azimi talk about the training conditions in Afghanistan for their Wounded Warriors.

From right, Yama Akramyar, team manager of the Afghanistan team and athletes Nasrullah Safi and Ahamd Shah Azimi talk about the training conditions in Afghanistan for their Wounded Warriors. (Ken-Yon Hardy/Stars and Stripes)

Team members of the Afghanistan team at the 2016 Invictus Games discuss participating in the competition. Only six athletes were sent from Afghanistan to participate in the games.

Team members of the Afghanistan team at the 2016 Invictus Games discuss participating in the competition. Only six athletes were sent from Afghanistan to participate in the games. (Ken-Yon Hardy/Stars and Stripes)

Team members of the Afghanistan team at the 2016 Invictus Games discuss participating in the competition. Only six athletes were sent from Afghanistan to participate in the games.

Team members of the Afghanistan team at the 2016 Invictus Games discuss participating in the competition. Only six athletes were sent from Afghanistan to participate in the games. (Ken-Yon Hardy/Stars and Stripes)

Team members of the Afghanistan team at the 2016 Invictus Games discuss participating in the competition. Only six athletes were sent from Afghanistan to participate in the games.

Team members of the Afghanistan team at the 2016 Invictus Games discuss participating in the competition. Only six athletes were sent from Afghanistan to participate in the games. (Ken-Yon Hardy/Stars and Stripes)

Team Afghanistan enters the opening ceremony for the 2016 Invictus Games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World, Orlando, Fla., May 8, 2016.  The Afghan team consists of eight wounded warrior athletes.

Team Afghanistan enters the opening ceremony for the 2016 Invictus Games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World, Orlando, Fla., May 8, 2016. The Afghan team consists of eight wounded warrior athletes. (Kevin Wallace/Courtesy of the U.)

ORLANDO, Fla. — They wore donated tracksuits that were mostly the wrong size, and had no coach and no prosthetics to replace their missing limbs. They’d barely been exposed to adaptive sports.

The six-man team from Afghanistan spoke almost no English, and their leader was a government bureaucrat who they hadn’t met before the Invictus Games, held this week at Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, where wounded and ill servicemembers from 14 nations were able to shine through athletic rehabilitation.

On the one hand, the Afghans beamed with pride to be here, representing their war-torn country. And seeing other wounded forces from around the world was liberating.

On the other hand, the six men representing different ethnic groups and bearing all kinds of debilitating wounds from the recent war saw just how few opportunities they had as disabled citizens.

“There are a lot of barriers to civil (rights) in Afghanistan in every area, like salaries, like disabilities,” said Ahmad Shah Azimi, an Army officer who lost both hands to a land mine in Kunar province.

He said there are no facilities for athletes with disabilities in the countryside, and the facility in Kabul, where the team was able to practice for the past three months, had no rowing machine. The team prepared for the rowing competition by lifting weights, he said.

They were flatly defeated by the U.K. team in their first sitting-volleyball match, and though they lost their second match to France, they had a few minutes where they pulled ahead.

“We need more practice,” Azimi said.

Funding concerns

In the more than 13 years since the war in Afghanistan began, the United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars — some estimates say close to $1 trillion — on the war and its aftermath, and about $113 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

This year, the U.S.-led international coalition for Afghanistan reported that an $87.5 million donation from the NATO Afghanistan National Army Trust Fund will be used to purchase medical provisions, improve hospitals for servicemembers and upgrade a rehabilitation center for military wounded.

It’s unclear how much of that money is invested properly in the areas intended. In damning reports, SIGAR has documented large-scale corruption, misuse and a poor tracking of funds, leading to waste and fraud.

The United States paid for the Afghan team to come to the Invictus Games, said Yama Akramyar, a security officer for the Afghan deputy minister of strategy and policy, who was appointed to travel with the team as their manager. The United States covered the cost of airfare, hotels and food.

Disparity is clear

The lack of opportunities for wounded Afghan servicemembers was painfully apparent to the six men when they arrived at the games. They were amazed by the facilities and equipment available to disabled people in the United States and Great Britain.

One day at the games, Azimi, whose lost hand was replaced by a 25-year-old hook, saw a British athlete with a prosthetic leg and asked him what it cost. The British athlete didn’t know.

“You have that leg and you don’t know how much that costs?” Azimi asked him. “Maybe $50,000 or $60,000,’’ the British athlete responded. “Our government pays for that.”

Asked about the disparity between the first- and third-world teams, U.S. team captain, retired Army Capt. Will Reynolds, said he was appalled.

“I’ve got eight (artificial) legs — more than I need,” said Reynolds, a leg amputee who was enjoying a moment’s rest with his son watching the U.S. team practice wheelchair volleyball, after winning medals in cycling, track and field. “Some of the legs I can’t even wear. And to know there are other servicemembers out there wearing stuff that’s not serviceable is unacceptable.”

He’d like to see a donation program in which wounded warriors can give their discarded prosthetics to those from other countries who are not as fortunate.

Akramyar said he planned to write a report when he gets home, to inform his government about the needs of the some 1 million wounded Afghan servicemembers — and the possibilities that the government could offer.

“I will pass their message to the government, but I am quite sure there will be no attention to this,” he said. “Our government is extremely busy. We have lots of priorities. Our country is under attack, and we are busy defending it.”

cahn.dianna@stripes.com Twitter: @DiannaCahn


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