Speaking to the Associated Press, the head of Doctors Without Borders has shunned the possibility that the attack earlier this month by American forces on a hospital the international medical charity ran in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz was a mistake.
The AP previously reported that American special operations analysts had the hospital under surveillance days before the October 3rd attack and knew it was a medical facility. The general director of Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médécins sans Frontiers, or MSF), Christopher Stokes reiterated the organization’s belief that the incident should be investigated as a war crime. At least 22 patients and hospital staff died in the attack.
“The hospital was repeatedly hit both at the front and the rear and extensively destroyed and damaged, even though we have provided all the coordinates and all the right information to all the parties in the conflict,” Stokes said. The hospital was hit in the midst of a firefight between Afghan government forces (assisted by U.S. advisers) and the Taliban.
President Obama has apologized for the attack, and the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in the country, General John Campbell has said it was a mistake. The strike, carried out by an AC-130 gunship, was called in by Afghan commanders, Campbell said, but it’s not clear whether they had received the analysts’ information that the site was a hospital, the AP reports.
“The extensive, quite precise destruction of this hospital... doesn’t indicate a mistake. The hospital was repeatedly hit,” Stokes said. MSF wants a “clear explanation, because all indications point to a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and therefore a war crime.”
“The compound was not entered by Taliban soldiers with weapons,” the general director said. At the time of the attack there were more than 70 staff members on duty, he said, tending to more than 100 patients—as a matter of policy, MSF treats all combatants indiscriminately.
“What we have understood from our staff and guards is that there was very strong, very good control of what was happening in and around the compound and they reported no firing in the hours preceding the destruction of the hospital,” Stokes told the AP.
“Until we understand what happened and we can gain guarantees that this unacceptable attack cannot happen again, we cannot reopen and put our staff in danger.”