Eye surgeon devoted 30 years to patients in poverty

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The Independent Online

Tom Little, one of 10 people killed by militants in northern Afghanistan, had spent more than 30 years working in the country, often in harsh and remote areas.

Dr Little, a senior opthamologist from Delmar, New York, led the team of nurses, doctors and logistics personnel murdered in an attack. The Taliban yesterday claimed responsibility.

He had already been expelled from the country by the Taliban in August 2001, after eight Christian Aid workers were arrested for allegedly trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. He returned with the Christian organisation, International Association Mission (IAM), soon after the Taliban was toppled in November 2001 by US and allied forces.

As a senior member of IAM working with the Noor Eye Institute, Dr Little trained the former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who yesterday paid tribute: "Dr Little travelled the length and breadth of Afghanistan, treating thousands and thousands of Afghans."

He supervised eye hospitals in Kabul, Kandahar and Herat, as well as smaller clinics in three towns. IAM has worked in Afghanistan since 1966, longer than any other NGO, and treats around quarter of a million Afghans every year.

His team trekked, on foot and on horseback, from village to village over two weeks in Nuristan Province, providing specialist eye treatment and healthcare to around 400 people before last week's attack, according to IAM's director, Dirk Frans.

He lost contact with Dr Little last Wednesday, but his death and those of the others were not reported until Friday, when an Afghan member of the team who survived the ambush managed to call. The Taliban yesterday claimed it had shot the "foreigners" because they were "spying for Americans" and "preaching Christianity".