US probe into Kunduz bombing leaves too many questions, independent inquiry needed – MSF

Hospital beds lay in the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on April 26, 2016, about six months after an American airstrike killed dozens of patients, some of whom burned to death in their beds © Josh Smith
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are still not able to reopen the hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz a year after it was bombed by American planes as a US investigation has failed to ensure the tragedy won’t repeat itself, the head of MSF Office in Brussels told RT.

The infamous US airstrike on October 3, 2015 killed 42 people, including three children, at the Doctors Without Borders or Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz.

MSF informed the Americans that the hospital was targeted 11 minutes into the attack, but the airstrike continued for another half an hour.

The head of the MSF Office in Brussels, Michael Hoffman, described the bombing as “severe,” saying that it “completely destroyed the hospital building.”

“Ever since that attack we’ve been trying to figure out from the parties in this conflict – the Afghan government and the international force, led by the US, why this hospital was attacked,” Hoffman told RT.

Doctors Without Borders had “clear agreements in place with the warring parties: Taliban, Afghan government and the US that they knew that this hospital was there and they agreed with it,” Hoffman stressed.

The US carried out its own investigation into the incident, calling it an “honest mistake,” apologizing before the aid group and providing cash to reconstruct the medical facility.  

But the MSF isn’t satisfied with the results of the American enquiry as they were only allowed to see a “quite heavily redacted report – 890 pages from a 3,000-page paper – that was accessible to the general public.”  

According to Hoffman, the US investigation into the attack on the hospital left a number of key questions unanswered.

“There’s nothing in this report that gives any insight into the role of the Afghan military forces. They were the ones doing the operation [against Taliban] in Kunduz city and they were the ones who called in air support from the US,” he said.

“The second thing that we really don’t understand from this report is how this building lost its protected status, why it was decided that it was legitimate target,” the MSF official said.

Doctors Without Borders believe that that only “an independent investigation” will be able to clarify the reasons for the tragedy, Hoffman stressed.  

“Right from the start, we stated that in our view the most relevant international body to investigate those issues is the Independent Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) based in Switzerland,” he said.

“IHFFC sent a request to the governments of Afghanistan and the US. As far as we know, they have not received a response. We are just assuming that this means ‘no,’ but we don’t know,” the MSF official added.

According to Hoffman, the MSF isn’t looking to punish those responsible for the attack, but only wants to “know what are the rules” for their hospitals working in Afghanistan. Doctors Without Borders have their hands tied until there’s clarity on the protected status of their facilities, Hoffman said.  

“We were operating under the assumption that the international humanitarian law… gives protected status to medical facilities, including those that do war surgery, which means we’ll be treating military as well as civilians. And no we don’t know is that protected status is still valid,” he said.

READ MORE: Taliban raises its flag over Kunduz before being pushed back by Afghan forces

“We can’t just send doctors in like martyrs. We have to have some assurances of the warring parties that certain rules of war as we understand them are still being respected,” Hoffman added.  
That’s the reason why the aid group “still hasn’t been able to reopen the trauma hospital in Kunduz. Even though… the need for trauma hospital with so much fighting still going on in the region is quite self-evident,” Hoffman stressed.

One year after the hospital bombing, Kunduz again became the site of heavy fighting between the government forces and Taliban.

The Taliban militants on Monday launched another assault on the strategic city and even erected its flag in the city center, but were later pushed back by the counter-offensive of Afghan troops.