A report on the attack on the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz has been released and it is a catalogue of mistakes and miscalculations that almost surpass understanding. Thirty staff, patients and medical assistants were killed in the attack and another 37 wounded. The crew of the AC-130 gunship had mistaken the hospital and its outbuildings for a Taliban-controlled building that was several hundred metres away. The MSF has dismissed the report saying it raises more questions than it answers, rightly blaming the Americans for what it describes as “gross negligence”. The American military commanders in Afghanistan took 17 minutes to respond, having been informed by the MSF that the hospital was under fire, and by the time they did respond, the action was over and much of the hospital ablaze or in ruins, staff and patients dead and injured. There was an immediate cover-up that was quickly exposed as the Americans became aware of the depth and gravity of what had been done, and President Obama was forced into a very public admission of responsibility.
The report calls the attack “a human process error” and was a demonstration of American commitment to accountability. Some of those responsible have been suspended from duty pending formal inquiries — none of which is going to mitigate the pain and suffering inflicted on innocents in one of the worst incidents involving civilian casualties in the 14-year Afghan war. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong, a bloody perfect storm of error and incompetence that went up, down and sideways through the US military in Afghanistan. People and equipment malfunctioned and there is no guarantee, the findings of this report notwithstanding, that such an incident will not happen again. A 3,000-page note saying ‘Sorry, our fault’ is the tawdry outcome to an incident that was entirely avoidable and should never have happened. It will be for international jurists to determine whether the incident was actually a war crime, but the wider world will already have made up its mind on that score.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2015.
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