Afghan media today published fresh claims that Taliban may have been present at the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit last weekend in a U.S. airstrike.
Twenty-two were killed in the attack, which the medical aid group said included three children and 12 staffers.
Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday that the hospital had been open since 2011 and in the last week, “as fighting swept through the city” after a Taliban takeover, 400 patients were seen there.
“On the night of the bombing, [Médecins Sans Frontières] staff working in the hospital heard what was later confirmed to be a US army plane circle around multiple times, releasing its bombs on the same building within the hospital compound at each pass. The building targeted was the one housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward. Surrounding buildings in the compound were left largely untouched,” said press officer Tim Shenk in a statement.
“Despite MSF alerting both the Afghan and Coalition military leadership, the airstrike continued for at least another 30 minutes. The hospital was well-known and the GPS coordinates had been regularly shared with Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials, as recently as Tuesday, September 29.”
Shenk added that “this attack cannot be brushed aside as a mere mistake or an inevitable consequence of war.”
“Statements from the Afghanistan government have claimed that Taliban forces were using the hospital to fire on Coalition forces,” he said. “These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital, which amounts to an admission of a war crime.”
Gen. John Campbell, who leads U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, “We have U.S. Special Forces on the ground. They’re doing train-advise assists with our Afghan partners. Our Afghan partners called for fire. The U.S. aircraft delivered those munitions.”
Multiple investigations at the Pentagon, NATO and Afghan government levels have been launched.
But Afghanistan’s Tolo News, their 24-hour news channel, cited an unnamed Afghan National Army commando today claiming that Taliban were “possibly” at the site at the time of the attack:
The Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital was the main medical facility that the Taliban used for its wounded, he said.
“Taliban were being treated in this hospital … because it was their main center (in Kunduz) for their healthcare services. I think they had come in large numbers and that the aircraft attacked them,” he told TOLOnews correspondent Wali Arian in Kunduz.
In addition, he said the Taliban had used the hospital to launch attacks on security forces.
Another ANA officer said the Taliban had seized the hospital for their own injured fighters before it was bombed.
“When the hospital was seized by the enemy (Taliban) they took the doctors hostage and were treating their injured fighters in the hospital,” he said.
The Taliban on Saturday denied that they used the hospital, claiming “not a single Mujahid of Islamic Emirate was being treated in the hospital because the prevailing military situation of Kunduz would not allow us to admit our patients to the said hospital.”
“This savagery happened a day after the so called Amnesty International and other international human right organizations blamed the Mujahideen of wrongdoings of entering the hospital, assuring the doctors about continuing their work and lending monetary help to the patients,” the Taliban statement continued.
Amnesty reported on Sept. 28 that “there are unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties and the Taliban taking over official buildings, including a public hospital.”
On Oct. 1, Amnesty reported a specific hospital incident: “The relative of a woman who worked as a midwife in Kunduz maternity hospital told Amnesty International how Taliban fighters gang-raped and then killed her and another midwife because they accused them of providing reproductive health services to women in the city.”
The Taliban vowed after the bombing to “take revenge upon the Americans and their hirelings for this oppression in a much better form, Allah willing.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that President Obama called the president of Doctors Without Borders to “express his condolences” over the airstrike.
“I think this is consistent with something you’ve heard the president say in a variety of circumstances, and that is that the United States, when we make a mistake, we’re honest about it, we own up to it, we apologize where necessary, as the president did in this case and we implement the kinds of changes that make it less likely that those kinds of mistakes will occur in the future,” Earnest said.