We’ve been waiting for more official information about the AC-130 attack on a Medecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders, a French-based medical nonprofit) trauma center in Konduz, Afghanistan, but no information from the US military investigation (most probably at this point a 15-6 investigation) has been publicly released.
That’s probably not a good sign. It doesn’t prove anything but that the information has not been publicly released, but it suggests that it’s bad news, and someone is trying to please a superior by delaying the release of the bad news.
In any event, MSF, tired of waiting for information from the United States, released its own report on 5 November. To call it “scathing” doesn’t really do it justice. An excerpt:
Hospitals have protected status under the rules of war. And yet in the early hours of 3 October, the MSF hospital in Kunduz came under relentless and brutal aerial attack by US forces.
Patients burned in their beds, medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling AC- 130 gunship while fleeing the burning building. At least 30 MSF staff and patients were killed.
This excerpt is from the executive summary. The full report goes into some detail as to why some of the personnel are still carried is missing, and how it comes to be that some of the bodies remain unidentified.
This week, MSF concluded an initial review of the facts before, during and in the aftermath of the airstrikes. Although our internal review is an ongoing process, we have decided to share these initial outcomes with the public, to counter speculation and to be transparent. Details that could identify individuals have been removed. Explanatory footnotes have been added in places where an external reader may need additional clarification.
They also, and this is rather important for the battle for the public mind space, got their licks in while the US military was still dithering.
This is the view from inside the hospital. What we lack is the view from outside the hospital – what happened within the military chains of command.
The facts compiled in this review confirm our initial observations: the MSF trauma centre was fully functioning as a hospital with 105 patients admitted and surgeries ongoing at the time of the US airstrikes; the MSF rules in the hospital were implemented and respected, including the ‘no weapons’ policy; MSF was in full control of the hospital before and at the time of the airstrikes; there were no armed combatants within the hospital compound and there was no fighting from or in the direct vicinity of the trauma centre before the airstrikes.
That’s pretty much the essence of it. The patients under treatment were a mix of putative civilians and Taliban fighters, with just single digits of Afghan security forces, but that is because the Afghan Nationals had withdrawn their people and evacuated them to a government hospital. The French and international staff did make an effort to treat all equally and did make an effort to disarm all patients and escorts (not always successfully, they admit, in the case of the Taliban, but they claim that armed combatants only dropped wounded and departed). They insist that no one was firing from the hospital or its grounds. (This is rather an important point of legal fact, because if a protected facility is used by combatant forces, its protection is forfeit).
Aerial photos show that the AC-130 fire was devastating. And accurate. But what they don’t show is where the system failed, if fail it did and the American gunship really did fire up a neutral hospital.
If the US has any justification for what the AC-130 aircrew did, now would be a pretty good time to reveal it.