Wounded Afghan soldiers set for Invictus Games debut
KABUL (Reuters) - In a sprawling military base on the outskirts of the Afghan capital Kabul, Mohammad Esa, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb, is getting ready to compete in the Invictus Games in Canada later this year.
Seven Afghan soldiers have been selected to compete against peers from 17 different countries in the Games, an international paralympic-style event for military personnel wounded in action.
Thirteen nations taking part were in the NATO-led coalition that has supported the Kabul government since the U.S.-led campaign to oust the Taliban in 2001.
Locked in an intractable battle with Taliban and Islamic State insurgents, Afghan security forces have struggled to handle high casualties, including at least 13,000 soldiers and police wounded last year.
Esa, 24, said that despite his disability, he had never lost hope and was very excited to represent his country on the world stage.
"I was so shattered when I lost my legs but now I am happy that I am back to life and want to achieve something through sport," Esa said from a army gym in Kabul where he was going through exercises for wheelchair volleyball and powerlifting, the two events he will be competing in.
"I am training for Canada and want to make my country proud and come back with an achievement," said Esa.
The Invictus Games were created three years ago by Britain's Prince Harry, who served two deployments in Afghanistan as an officer in the British army.
The name - "Invictus" means unconquered in Latin - symbolizes the way that sport can help wounded soldiers overcome trauma suffered in combat.
Esa lost his legs to a roadside bomb during a security patrol in northern Baghlan province two years ago, one of tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police to have been wounded since the U.S.-led campaign to oust the Taliban in 2001. Many thousands of others have been killed.
The Games have been held twice before, in London in 2014 and in Orlando, Florida in 2016. More than 550 competitors will take part in the competition in Toronto, from Sept 23-30.
Sports, with specially adapted rules, include archery, athletics, indoor rowing, wheelchair basketball, tennis and rugby and powerlifting.
The seven-member team is the largest Afghanistan has sent to the Invictus Games.
All of Esa's team mates have suffered severe injuries that have changed their lives but they say the focus needed to compete in the Games has provided a goal to channel their energies.
"I haven't lost hope, despite losing a leg and this sport gives me a lot of motivation," said Salahuddin Zahiri, another Afghan army soldier who will be competing in Canada.
(Writing by Hamid Shalizi, Editing by Pritha Sarkar)