The Medecins sans Frontiere (MSF) hospital in Kunduz was not bombed, it was attacked repeatedly by a C130 gunship; and contrary to initial reports, the attack was not called in to support Americans under fire by the Taliban, it was called in by the Afghans themselves. The location of the hospital was well known, and was documented on maps made by the United Nations using Ikonos satellite imagery with a resolution down to one metre. The GPS coordinates of the hospital were known to both the Afghan and American forces operating in and around Kunduz. The coordinates were updated to all forces on September 29. It was the largest hospital capable of conducting complex surgery in the city. All of that and much more is known and is in the public domain. What we do not know is why it was so comprehensively blitzed by one of the most powerful aerial weapons at American disposal.
Claims by the Afghan government that the Taliban were operating from the hospital have been contemptuously denied by the MSF. It is not unknown for the Taliban to use medical facilities as ‘cover’ but there is no supporting evidence that they were in this instance. There could have been a failure of coordination between Afghan and American forces, or an inattentive TAC commander getting their numbers wrong — but whatever the cause is finally revealed to be, the incident should never have happened. Outside the Red Cross, the MSF is the world’s leading medical NGO operating in zones of conflict. It consists of the toughs who get going when the going gets tough, and operates under the most hazardous of conditions. It was awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize for its humanitarian work, and to lose 12 of its staff and at least seven patients, as well as have 35 wounded, is an unconscionable blow. The US has promised a speedy and transparent inquiry, and the MSF has said that what happened may constitute a war crime under the Geneva Convention. The Kunduz hospital is now closed, but the case of the murder of almost 30 people remains very much open, and requires urgent answers.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2015.
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