by Sarah Rovinsky
On September 3, for 30 minutes, American forces conducted a deadly airstrike on a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The attack killed 22 civilians, 12 of them staff members. Officials with Doctors Without Borders had explicitly informed in advance all parties to the conflict, including in Washington and Kabul, of the hospital’s GPS coordinates. Once the bombing started, the group contacted the American and Afghan authorities but it took 30 minutes before the bombing was stopped.
Gen. John Campbell, who commands American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged the issue at a news conference on Monday, September 5, saying that civilians had been “accidentally struck” and promised a thorough investigation.
General Campbell said that Afghan forces, fighting to retake Kunduz from the Taliban, had come under fire near the hospital and called the Americans for help, which led to the bombing. He admitted this contradicted initial reports that suggested that American forces were threatened and the airstrike was called on their behalf, prompting him on Saturday to describe the strike as “justified.”
The New York Times addressed the confusion in the questioning of whether there had been fighting around the hospital at all. “According to The Times’s Alissa Rubin, a Kunduz police spokesman, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, said Taliban fighters entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position. The hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked Afghan security forces. But three hospital employees — an aide who was wounded in the bombing and two nurses who emerged unscathed — said that there had been no fighting in the hospital’s immediate vicinity and no Taliban fighters in the hospital. Arjan Hehenkamp, director of Doctors Without Borders in the Netherlands, also denied that Taliban fighters had been in the hospital, saying in a Twitter post that only staff, patients and caretakers had been inside.”
Many more questions are being posed towards the American forces and their credibility to give truthful answers the first time. In modern warfare, civilian deaths are impossible to avoid, especially in heavily populated cities like Kunduz. Whenever mistakes are made and lives lost, American military commanders have promised to hone the rules of engagement to minimize the risks. General Campbell repeated that pledge.