US knew of Afghan hospital hit by air strike

Associated Press claims American special operations analysts knew Kunduz hospital was protected medical site before deadly air strike took place

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

An Afghan man walks in front of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 14, 2015.

American special operations analysts was aware of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Afghanistan days before air strikes killed 10 patients and 12 staff members in the hospital on October 3, according to the Associated Press.

AP intelligence writer Ken Dilanian on Thusday calimed that the analysts gathered and watched the hospital outside Kunduz carefully due to suspicions the hospital was being used as a command base by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity.

However MSF declared none of its staff in the hospital were Pakistanis.

Meinie Nicolai, president of the operational directorate of MSF said, "There were only Afghan staff and nine international staff, none of whom were from Pakistan, working in the hospital. There was absolutely nothing that indicated at any level, including at senior management, that any of our staff was working for Pakistani intelligence."

Fire is seen inside a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital building after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan in this October 3, 2015 MSF handout photo.

After the deadly US attack took place, the Afghan Interior Ministry reported that a group of militants associated with Taliban were firing on Afghan forces after they had taken up positions within the hospital compound, using the building "as a human shield."

The US military also said it carried out an air strike "in the vicinity" of the hospital, aimed at targeting the Taliban militants.

However, MSF has denied claims that the Taliban fighters were firing from its hospital at Afghan forces and said, "The gates of the hospital compound were closed all night so no one that is not staff, a patient or a caretaker was inside the hospital when the bombing happened."

MSF calls for independent investigation

Following the air strike MSF said that the incident was a war crime and demanded that an independent fact-finding mission take place under the Geneva Conventions.

UN Human Rights Chief Officer Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein also described the air strike targeting the hospital as 'inexcusable' and possibly a ‘war crime.’

MSF International President, Joanne Liu, in a news briefing said, “If we let this go, as if it were a non-event, we are basically giving a blank cheque to any countries who are at war."

"If we don't safeguard that medical space for us to do our activities, then it is impossible to work in other contexts like Syria, South Sudan, like Yemen," she added.

During the attack patients were burned alive inside the crowded hospital and among the dead were three children who were being treated, according to witnesses.

"Our patients burned in their beds, MSF doctors, nurses and other 12 staff were killed as they worked. Our colleagues had to operate on each other," Liu said.

US accepts blame for hospital attack

General John Campbell, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said in testimony last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US air strike was a mistake.

"To be clear, the decision to provide aerial fire was a US decision made within the US chain of command," Campbell said and added, "A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility."

Contrary to previous statements by the US military that its own troops were under fire and had called in the strike, air support from US forces was instead requested by Afghan forces when they started taking fire from Taliban fighters, Campbell stated.

US Army General John Campbell, commander of the Resolute Support Mission and United States Force - Afghanistan, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on "The Situation in Afghanistan" on Capitol Hill in Washington October 6, 2015.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement "As General Campbell has said, we would never intentionally target a protected medical facility,” and added, “We have confidence that the ongoing investigations into this tragic incident will uncover exactly what happened and why this hospital was mistakenly struck."

MSF denounced Campbell’s announcement as an attempt to shift blame onto the Afghans.

US Executive Director of MSF, Jason Cone also said, "Campbell’s shifting story underlined the need for an independent inquiry."

“They are now back to talking about a ‘mistake’. A mistake that lasted for more than an hour, despite the fact that the location of the hospital was well known to them and that they were informed during the air strike that it was a hospital being hit. All this confusion just underlines once again the crucial need for an independent investigation into how a major hospital, full of patients and MSF staff, could be repeatedly bombed,” he said.

The controversy over the incident has given a boon to members of Congress who were opposed to Obama's plan to transfer the CIA's drone programme to the US military, AP reported.

TRTWorld and agencies