On October 3, a US military gunship launched an attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing at least 22 patients and staff. As you might expect, much of the international community promptly expressed outrage and multiple investigations were launched into what seemed like just the latest in a decade-long spectacle of violence unleashed on the region by the American armed forces—whether they be drones, traditional soldiers, or military contractors.
Now, after weeks of shifting explanations from American officials, the Associated Press is reporting that US special operations analysts knew exactly what the site was—and were targeting a Pakistani intelligence operative supposedly believed to be allied with the Taliban.
The AP, an outlet not known for its editorializing, described the attack in what for them counts as strong terms:
Typically, pilots flying air support missions would have maps showing protected sites such as hospitals and mosques. If commanders concluded that enemies were operating from a protected site, they would follow procedures designed to minimize civilian casualties. That would generally mean surrounding a building with troops, not blowing it to bits from the air.
What we still don't know is whether the soldiers in the field had that intel when they ordered the attack on the hospital, which analysts apparently suspected might contain a stockpile of arms. As the AP reports, Doctors Without Borders claims the plane took "five separate strafing runs over an hour" and only targeted the main facility, which contained the emergency room.
On Wednesday, even before this latest news broke, the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission—created under the Geneva Convention—said it was ready to probe this grisly affair for war crimes, assuming US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani play ball. But the United States initially suggested it may have had troops—who were helping Afghan forces reclaim the city from the Taliban—under fire in the area. Later, General John Campbell—the top American commander in the country—said Afghan allies had been under attack and requested an airstrike.
The US government has not commented on the AP story so far. But on Thursday, President Obama announced he is halting the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, abandoning any pretense of ending the conflict before he returns to civilian life in 2017.
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