According to the Associated Press, the Green Berets who called in a deadly airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan earlier this month were aware that it was a hospital but believed it was occupied by Taliban fighters.
On October 2nd, the AP reports, the day before the AC-130 gunship attack that killed at least 30 people, a senior Green Beret officer wrote in a report that American forces had contacted the medical group’s country director to discuss the hospital in Kunduz, according to two people who have seen the document in question.
Also, shortly before the attack, a Washington official asked Doctors Without Borders “whether our hospital had a large group of Taliban fighters in it,” spokesman Tim Shenk wrote in an email to the AP. “We replied that this was not the case. We also stated that we were very clear with both sides to the conflict about the need to respect medical structures.”
According to the two people who claimed to have seen it, the Green Beret officer’s report said that the hospital was under the control of insurgents, and that “MSF report that they have personnel in the trauma center.” (MSF is short for Medicins sans Frontiers, DWB’s French name.) The trauma center’s coordinates were sent to “all friendly forces,” the document allegedly said—that is, both Green Berets and Air Force personnel—and the American troops were told to “clear the trauma center” of enemy forces.
Gen. John Campbell, commander of American forces in Afghanistan, has said that “a special operations unit that was in close vicinity... was talking to the aircraft that delivered those fires.”
A senior Green Beret officer has told superiors that his troops, accompanying Afghan security forces, were under fire and in danger, according to a former government official familiar with his account.
Also a mystery is why the AC-130 gunship would have kept firing during the course of an hour on a building that both the Air Force and the Army knew was an internationally run trauma center. To avoid civilian casualties, a gunship would typically stop firing as soon as it achieved its objective — in this case, ostensibly, protecting U.S. forces. Generally, the aircraft would require further clearance from the troops on the ground to continue firing.
The death toll rose to 30 over the weekend after more bodies were pulled from the rubble. In a statement, DWB said the toll includes “10 known patients, 13 known staff and seven unrecognizable bodies.”
The AP previously reported that U.S. analysts believed a Pakistani operative, working for his country’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, was using the hospital to coordinate Taliban movements, and after the attack, the Pakistani operative was purported to have been killed. But there is no public evidence to suggest that a Pakistani died at the hospital, and DWB, which has repeatedly denied that the compound was under Taliban control or that gunmen were firing from it, says that none of its staff was Pakistani.
The AP points out that the AC-130’s gun video camera would have taken video that might show whether anyone was firing from the hospital, but that the U.S. government has not yet made that footage public.