An “accidental” airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan killed twenty-two people Saturday morning. Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is demanding an independent inquiry into the incident, calling it a war crime. Currently, the incident sports three investigations, including one by the Defense Department, one involving both the United States and Afghanistan, and one by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
According to MSF, the airstrike began at 2:08 a.m. and lasted until 3:15 a.m.; the aerial bombings occurred in about fifteen minute intervals. This repeated, precise bombing of the main building of the hospital continued even after the hospital contacted U.S. and Afghan military officials to report the location of the hospital. The main building, which seems to have been the main target, was the location of the medical personnel and patients, leading to the death of twelve staff members, ten patients, and another thirty-seven people wounded.
The air raid has forced the hospital to close, leaving the civilians and wounded of the war-stricken Kunduz with no access to trauma care. In the week before the bombing, MSF treated 394 wounded at the hospital in Kunduz.
MSF is calling for an independent analysis into what they are calling a war crime. According the International Criminal Court, “war crimes include grave breaches of the Geneva Convention” including “intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historical monuments, or hospitals.” However, a hospital can lose immunity to being attacked if the building is being used by the enemy for military attacks.
Establishing whether the bombing is a war crime will require a detailed report of what happened. However, forming a clear story of the incident has been made difficult by the changing U.S. accounts.
The most recent report from the U.S. came Tuesday morning, Oct. 6, from General John Campbell, the commander of U.S. and NATO war in Afghanistan. Campbell reported that U.S. operations called in the airstrike on the hospital after a request for support from the Afghans, emphasizing that “even though the Afghans request that support, it still has to go through a rigorous U.S. procedure to enable fires to go on the ground.”
MSF has criticized this statement, saying it is an attempt to put the blame on the Afghans. Additionally, the U.S. executive director of MSF, Jason Cone, said “Campbell’s shifting story underscored the need for an independent inquiry,” and Tuesday’s report from Campbell was the “latest in a long list of confusing accounts from the U.S. military about what happened.”
In the pending investigations, one of the most crucial questions will be if the U.S. forces, believing the Taliban were firing from the hospital, notified the hospital before the strike.