Kunduz hospital attack: U.S. Army told no Taliban present day before strike

Wreckage smoulders in part of the MSF hospital in Kunduz on Oct. 3, 2015, after it was hit by an air strike. (Credit: MSF)

The U.S. Army Special Forces who called in the air strike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, believed it to be overrun by the Taliban, the Associated Press has reported. But members of a Green Beret unit spoke with the Afghanistan country director for Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the day before the attack, sources said. “MSF report that they have personnel in the trauma center,” said the report, citing a senior Green Beret officer report.

“The hospital was under the control of [Doctors Without Borders]. Our staff reported no armed combatants or fighting in the compound prior to the airstrike,” said Tim Shenk, a Doctors Without Borders spokesman, to the Washington Post.

Shenk also told the AP that the organization was clear in its response to the U.S. army that the Taliban did not control the hospital. A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the story. The latest report bolsters the public case made by the humanitarian organization that the U.S. intentionally bombed the facility – an act they say constitutes a war crime.

The location of the hospital was well known to officials and military members, according to sources who spoke with the AP.

The attack carried out by a U.S. AC-130U gunship from 4th Special Operations Squadron on Oct. 3 killed at least 30 people. The attack lasted more than an hour, a length of time that is rather long if trying to reduce civilian causalities, the AP report said. Doctors Without Borders recently revised its casualty count, up from 22 people. Forensic examinations continue to determine the identities of the bodies that were charred by the fire caused by the attack.

The organization immediately condemned the attack and called for an independent international investigation into the incident. Thus far, the U.S. has admitted that it carried out the strikes, but not explained why.

“My intent is to disclose the findings of the investigation once it is complete,” said Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a statement. “We will be forthright and transparent and we will hold ourselves accountable for any mistakes made. While we desire the investigation to be timely, what’s most important is that it be done thoroughly and correctly.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.