Hard to accept US attack on Afghan hospital an error - MSF

At least 30 killed when Kunduz hospital hit by US attack aircraft on October 3rd

General director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, Christopher Stokes (right) speaks as head of the  Kunduz incident management team Michiel Hofman  looks on during a press conference in Kabul on November 5th, 2015. Photograph: Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

General director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, Christopher Stokes (right) speaks as head of the Kunduz incident management team Michiel Hofman looks on during a press conference in Kabul on November 5th, 2015. Photograph: Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

 

Medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said on Thursday it was hard to believe a US strike on an Afghan hospital last month was a mistake, as it had reports of fleeing people being shot from an aircraft.

“All the information that we’ve provided so far shows that a mistake is quite hard to understand and believe at this stage,” MSF general director Christopher Stokes told reporters while presenting the group’s internal report on the incident.

The report said many staff described “seeing people being shot, most likely from the plane” as they tried to flee the main hospital building, which was under attack by US military aircraft.

At least 30 people were killed when the hospital in Kunduz was hit by a powerful US attack aircraft on October 3rd while Afghan government forces were battling to regain control of the northern city from Taliban forces who seized it days earlier.

Two investigations

The US has said the hospital was hit by accident, and two separate investigations by the US and Nato are under way. But the circumstances of the incident, one of the worst of its kind during the 14-year conflict, are still unclear.

Mr Stokes told reporters the organisation was still awaiting an explanation from the US military.

“From what we are seeing now, this action is illegal in the laws of war,” Mr Stokes said.

“There are still many unanswered questions, including who took the final decision, who gave the targeting instructions for the hospital.”

Capt Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said MSF shared the report in advance with the US Defence Department.

“Since this tragic incident, we have worked closely with MSF to determine the facts surrounding it,” he said in a statement, which did not address the report’s specifics. “We are committed to conducting investigations that are thorough and transparent.”

The White House said US President Barack Obama had been briefed on the MSF report.

Several Afghan officials have suggested Taliban fighters were using the hospital as a base, a claim that MSF firmly rejects.

No armed fighters

It says the facility was under its control at all times and there were no armed fighters present either before or during the attack.

The hospital was treating wounded combatants from both sides as well as civilians, but the group says it always maintained a strict policy of neutrality between the two sides.

“Treating wounded combatants is not a crime,” Mr Stokes said.

MSF says the site’s location had been clearly communicated to both Afghan forces and the Taliban, and it was clearly identifiable as a hospital.

“That night, it was one of the few buildings with electrical power, it was fully lit up,” Mr Stokes said.

He said inspections of the area around the hospital since the Taliban withdrew from Kunduz last month did not reveal signs of heavy fighting.

Repeated attacks

MSF, or Doctors Without Borders in English, has revised the original casualty figure upwards and now says 30 people, including 13 staff members and three children, were killed during repeated attacks by the US gunship.

The US investigation is headed by a US general and two brigadier generals.

A separate Nato casualty report into the incident, originally expected in October, has been delayed while the investigation continues, US defence secretary Ash Carter announced last month.

Reuters