Early Saturday morning, a trauma hospital run by Doctors without Borders (MSF) in Kunduz, Afghanistan “was hit by a series of aerial bombing raids at approximately 15 minute intervals.” MSF reports, “The main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, and physiotherapy ward, was repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.”
MSF adds, “The bombing took place despite the fact that MSF had provided the GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials… to avoid that the hospital be hit. As is routine practice for MSF in conflict areas, MSF had communicated the exact location of the hospital to all parties to the conflict.” To make matters worse, the hospital was already overwhelmed with a large number of patients from the recent fighting in Kunduz, which was seized on Monday by the Taliban. Antiwar.com reports, “The US Embassy in Kabul expressed ‘condolences’ but did not apologize for the attack, while both the UN Mission to Afghanistan and the Red Cross condemned the strikes, saying it was unacceptable to undermine humanitarian organizations in the warzone.”
Meinie Nicolai, MSF President said, “This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law. We demand total transparency from Coalition forces.” Adding, “Besides resulting in the deaths of our colleagues and patients, this attack has cut off access to urgent trauma care for the population in Kunduz at a time when its services are most needed.”
The hospital that was bombed is the only facility of its kind in the north-eastern region of Afghanistan. Those who were most critically injured in the attacks were transferred to a hospital two hours away by car in Puli Khumri.
The New York Times reports the Pentagon issued a statement saying the military had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Obama offered condolences to the victims and said “we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgment.”
Nicolai added, “We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’… Once again, we call on all warring parties to respect civilians, health facilities, and medical staff, according to International Humanitarian Law.”
International Humanitarian Law, also called the law of war, specifies that in addition to an enemy who surrenders or is unable to fight, and both civilians and religious military personnel, “Medical personnel, supplies, hospitals and ambulances must all be protected.”
The bombing of this hospital is just the latest example of a violation of the law of war by the US military. There have been countless civilians killed in targeted drone strikes and other bombings, including 14 people in a wedding party who were killed in 2013, and another incident in which troops attacked a hospital in 2009. Unfortunately these violations of the law of war (i.e. war crimes) will likely never be punished. However everyone in the chain of command from the President all the way down to the enlisted men and women that were “just following orders” should be held accountable for their war crimes.