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US Operatives Allegedly Knew Kunduz Site Was a Hospital Before Launching Deadly Airstrikes

Special operations analysts reportedly suspected that a Pakistani operative was using the facility as a Taliban control center and to house heavy weapons.
Photo by Najim Rahim/AP

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US special operations analysts allegedly scouted a Doctors Without Borders (Médécins sans Frontières, or MSF) hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz for signs of Taliban activity days before US airstrikes were launched on the site, killing 10 patients and 12 staff members.

The analysts suspected that a Pakistani operative was using the facility as a Taliban control center and to house heavy weapons, the Associated Press reported, citing a former intelligence official who claimed he was aware of maps of the hospital and overhead surveillance activity reports compiled by the operatives. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.


It was not immediately clear if higher-ups had been privy to the information gathered by the analysts. In the wake of the October 3 attack, which MSF called a war crime, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, testified before the Senate that the "hospital was mistakenly struck" during a firefight involving US troops, and that US forces "would never intentionally target a protected medical facility."

Related: What Happened at the Kunduz Hospital Airstrikes? Details Are Starting to Emerge

But MSF maintains that both US and Afghan authorities were made aware of the exact coordinates of the hospital as recently as September 29, four days before the bombing. The prominent medical charity claims that that no gunmen, weapons, or ammunition were in the building and that none of its staff is Pakistani.

US, NATO, and Afghan investigators have launched ongoing parallel probes into the bombing, the White House has said, while President Barack Obama apologized to MSF last week. But the group's international president, Dr. Joanne Liu, said that the expression of regret did not go far enough, and called on the independent humanitarian commission created under the Geneva Conventions in 1991 to handle the inquiry.

"We have received apologies and condolences, but this is not enough. We are still in the dark about why a well-known hospital full of patients and medical staff was repeatedly bombarded for more than an hour," said Liu. "We need to understand what happened and why."


Related: 'Abhorrent Attack' on Afghan Hospital Was a War Crime, Says MSF

On Thursday, MSF also accused the US of sending in an armored personnel carrier into the bomb site a day after the attack, and claimed the tank may have destroyed potential evidence there.

"Their unannounced and forced entry damaged property, destroyed potential evidence, and caused stress and fear," MSF said.

The city of Kunduz was seized by the Taliban a month ago. The operation that included the airstrike on the MSF hospital was part of a major counteroffensive by Afghan forces, with the assistance of US Special Forces, to retake the city from Taliban militants.

MSF has since shut down operations at the Kunduz trauma center, depriving tens of thousands of Afghans of health care, the group said.