US servicemen get ‘slap on the wrist’ for airstrikes on Doctors Without Borders

Hospital beds lay in the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on April 26, 2016 © Josh Smith
The US never holds people accountable for such crimes as the attack on the Kunduz hospital. It considers reprimands or disciplinary action no matter how egregious the action taken by service members, says Jason Ditz, news editor at

The Pentagon said it will not criminally charge the military personnel responsible for the airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan last year that led to the deaths of 42 people.

The facility was targeted, supposedly by mistake; as the US helped Afghan forces liberate the area from Taliban militants. Sixteen American servicemen have been disciplined for their part in the attack.

RT: In October US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the investigation would "hold accountable anyone responsible for conduct that was improper." How come we see a completely different outcome six months later?

Jason Ditz: Unfortunately, I don’t think it is that big of a surprise. When they promise to hold people accountable in situations like this, major militaries, particularly the US, almost never actually do this. They consider these reprimands, which are basically a slap on the wrist, as disciplinary action. And basically that is all you ever see no matter how egregious the action taken by the service members.

RT: Last year the UN condemned the attack and stressed it would wait for the investigation to be completed. Now that the results are here, why is there still no official UN statement on the issue?

JD: Somebody, I think, is waiting for the actual official report from the Pentagon. I think a big question here though is whether or not this report finally answers what the official US story is on this attack, because Pentagon officials have offered several different excuses for what happened, and none of them are particularly convincing and each of them contradicts the others.

RT: On Thursday, the UN called the situation in Aleppo "catastrophic" referring to another airstrike on an MSF hospital. US Secretary of State John Kerry was also quick to react by saying he was "outraged" and blamed the Syrian army for the strike. Can we say there is bias present when the attacks carried out by the West and other countries are condemned?

JD: Absolutely. The attack in Kunduz, Afghanistan was actually quite a bit deadlier than the attack in Aleppo, even with the increased casualties that we’ve seen on the Aleppo strike. The US has two different reactions: one, for itself and its allies, and one for countries it doesn’t like. In this case we are seeing that pretty straight forwardly...  

RT: Is there a way for MSF to hold the US government accountable for the Kunduz attack? Or is it safe to say the US and its allies have a blank check when it comes to casualties among civilians in the Middle East?

JD: Unfortunately, they probably don’t have much recourse. Doctors Without Borders have been trying to get the US to allow an international investigation on the attack. President Obama has repeatedly made clear that he doesn’t support the idea of international investigation, saying he thinks the Pentagon can do a good enough job. Hopefully, when the new Pentagon report comes out we will have a little better idea what that report says, and maybe get a new call for some international independent investigation. But from the US perspective, there doesn’t seem to be much upside into allowing an investigation like that…

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