‘US strike on Afghan hospital no mistake’ – Doctors Without Borders

Wounded Afghan men, who survived a U.S. air strike on a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, receive treatment at the Emergency Hospital in Kabul October 8, 2015. © Mohammad Ismail
The head of an international medical charity, whose hospital in northern Afghanistan was razed to the ground by a United States airstrike earlier this month, has claimed it may have been deliberate rather than accidental.

"The hospital was repeatedly hit both at the front and the rear and extensively destroyed and damaged, even though we have provided all the coordinates and all the right information to all the parties in the conflict," Christopher Stokes, general director of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) told AP.

"The extensive, quite precise destruction of this hospital ... doesn't indicate a mistake. The hospital was repeatedly hit," he pointed out. The attack, in which the American Lockheed AC-130 gunship repeatedly bombed the hospital, lasted for over an hour despite calls to Afghan, US and NATO to stop it, MSF earlier said.

Repeatedly calling for an independent inquiry into the incident, Stokes told AP that MSF wanted a "clear explanation because all indications point to a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and therefore a war crime."

The October 3 attack on the compound in the city of Kunduz had “mistakenly” killed 22 people.

Twelve of the victims killed in the bombing were MSF staff, the rest – their patients. The hospital is no longer in operation. The US Department of Defense has pledged to work on compensating the families of the victims killed in the attack.

READ MORE: Obama ‘apologized’ to MSF for Kunduz hospital strike – White House

Earlier this month US President Barack Obama apologized for the deadly airstrike, saying that the MSF hospital had been “mistakenly struck.” Previously, Washington’s official rhetoric embarrassingly changed on at least four times – from “not knowing for certain” that it had struck a hospital, at the same time as the US forces were “taking fire in Kunduz” to shifting the responsibility straight to the Afghan government for requesting the bombardment.

Finally General John Campbell, the commander of the US-NATO Afghan mission, clarified in mid-October that the strike had indeed been requested by Kabul, but that it had been US forces who had called in and directed the assault.
 
Despite the US military’s admission of their fatal mistake, MSF (a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization that provides medical aid in conflict zones) has stressed it is not enough. According to the humanitarian organization, the assault simply could not have been accidental, as the hospital’s coordinates had been “regularly shared” with the military to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening.

LISTEN MORE:

MSF International President Joanne Liu has previously called for the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, established under the Geneva Convention, to be “activated” to look into the attack. MSF sent letters to the 76 countries that ratified the protocol setting up the commission in 1991. The problem is, neither the US, nor Afghanistan are signatories to the document.

According to AP, American special operations analysts were scrutinizing the Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity. The analysts knew it was a medical facility, according to a former intelligence official, familiar with some of the documents describing the site. It's unclear whether that information ever reached commanders who unleashed the attack on the hospital.

READ MORE: US tank enters MSF hospital in Afghanistan’s Kunduz, ‘destroys potential evidence’ – reports

MSF has denied there were any armed Taliban on the hospital grounds at the time of the US airstrike.

"The compound was not entered by Taliban soldiers with weapons," Stokes said. "What we have understood from our staff and guards is that there was very strong, very good control of what was happening in and around the compound and they reported no firing in the hours preceding the destruction of the hospital."

He said that over 70 staff members were on duty, tending to more than 100 patients at the time.

According to Doctors Without Borders officials, the US gunship made five separate bombing runs over the course of an hour, directing heavy fire on the main hospital building, which contained the emergency room and intensive care unit.

Stokes said that "until we understand what happened and we can gain guarantees that this unacceptable attack cannot happen again, we cannot reopen and put our staff in danger.”

The Afghan authorities have refused to comment before official investigations are completed. President Ashraf Ghani's deputy spokesman told reporters on Saturday that the Afghan government has "faith" in investigations conducted by the US military and by a joint Afghan-NATO team.