Immediately following a deadly U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan’s national security advisor told a European diplomat, “We are without doubt, 100 percent convinced the place was occupied by Taliban,” the Associated Press reports. There is still no evidence to support this claim.
According to notes of the meeting reviewed by the AP, Hanif Atmar told the (unnamed) European diplomat that he had been authorized by President Ashraf Ghani to declare that the government of Afghanistan would take responsibility for the assault. Notes from the meeting quote Atmar: “There was no doubt whatsoever that the Taliban were inside the hospital, that they took it over, thus violating its sanctity.” Other Afghan officials have maintained Atmar’s account.
However, the AP reports, it increasingly seems to be the case that the strike was not only carried out by the U.S. military at the behest of its Afghan allies—who have long resented Doctors Without Borders’ policy of treating Afghan security forces and Taliban indiscriminately—but also without any direct knowledge of what was happening at the hospital at the time, as the unit whose commander called in the strike was embroiled in a firefight a half-mile away.
The attack by an AC-130 gunship came after days of heavy fighting in the northern Afghanistan city. About 35 members of the 3rd Special Forces Group had been helping about 100 Afghan special forces soldiers retake Kunduz from the Taliban, the former U.S. intelligence official said. From their position in the governor’s compound, they came under heavy assault by Taliban fighters, and sought to use air power to destroy the Taliban’s remaining command and control nodes around the city.
The Afghans insisted the hospital was one of those command centers, and urged that it be destroyed, the former official said.
It’s not clear exactly what the 3rd Group commander who directed the strike knew about the hospital, and why he made the decision to attack. Nor is it known who in the chain of command reviewed and approved the decision, or what those people knew.
Afghan officials say their forces were also a half mile away, and therefore could not have been under direct fire from the hospital.