Médecins Sans Frontières in Kunduz Treated 2 Higher Ranking Taliban before Attack

On Tuesday, the Daily Beast noted that DOD had not fulfilled its promise to release the preliminary results of its investigation into the October 3 bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières trauma center in Kunduz a month earlier.

When the U.S. military fired on a hospital in Afghanistan last month, the Pentagon promised to reveal details about the disastrous airstrike within 30 days.

That promise has not been kept. And according to Doctors Without Borders, the U.S. military has stonewalled attempts for an independent investigation of the incident.

The intransigence is particularly baffling because, in the days after the attack, which left at least 23 people dead, senior military and White House officials had enough information to say publicly the U.S. had made a “mistake” by firing on the hospital.

One possible explanation may be that on October 24, ISAF Commander John Campbell ordered another inquiry, this one carried out by a higher ranking general from another command.

With an initial military assessment confirming civilian casualties in the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz by an American warplane, Gen. John F. Campbell, the American commander in Afghanistan, has appointed a two-star general from another command to conduct an independent investigation, his office said in a statement on Saturday.

[snip]

A spokesman for General Campbell, Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, said an assessment team had “determined that the reports of civilian casualties were credible.” The investigation, which will be conducted by three senior officers outside General Campbell’s command, will be led by Maj. Gen. William B. Hickman and supported by two brigadier generals.

General Campbell, also the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said: “My intent is to disclose the findings of the investigation once it is complete. We will be forthright and transparent and we will hold ourselves accountable for any mistakes made.”

That might suggest the problems go well beyond the ones that keep getting leaked to the DailyBeast about an intelligence system Duncan Hunter wants to replace failing.

Another official privately told The Daily Beast that failures with the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System-Army, a multibillion-dollar intelligence computer system that is supposed to locate civilian targets, contributed to confusion about the true nature of the target.

Today, MSF released its own report of the bombing.

The report is interesting because, from the start, it has been clear MSF had a pretty good inkling of why they had been targeted. It lays out how, on September 28, the patient base in the hospital shifted from being primarily government forces to Taliban forces (though there were also 26 children treated that day) — though all were subject to MSF’s requirement that no weapons be brought into the compound. About half the 130 patients in the hospital during the attack were Taliban.

Perhaps most interesting is this paragraph, indicating that by Wednesday September 30, MSF had concluded two of those Taliban patients were more senior Taliban.

By Wednesday, MSF was aware of two wounded Taliban patients that appeared to have had higher rank. This was assumed for multiple reasons: being brought in to the hospital by several combatants, and regular inquiries about their medical condition in order to accelerate treatment for rapid discharge.

I’m going to guess that one or both of these men were used to claim the hospital was operating as a command post, if not to claim it could legitimately be targeted.

Much later in the report, it describes Afghan forces searching the hospital as the evacuation started.

Some Afghan Special Forces started to search for Taliban patients in the MoPH and MSF ambulance on leaving the hospital.

And while the night before the attack had been remarkably calm, fighting resumed right outside the hospital shortly after the attack.

At approximately 8.30am, MSF staff remaining in the Trauma Centre report that fighting broke out again in front of the KTC main gate. The fighting forced those remaining in the hospital to hide in the basement for an additional one hour.

Two patients’ and one MSF staffer’s bodies have yet to be found in the rubble, though there are 7 thus far unidentified bodies. The report does not note whether those senior Taliban figures survived or not, which I find to be a really important point.

All of which is to say that, whatever the fuck up that didn’t prevent the hospital from being bombed within DOD, those Taliban may well have been the reason the Afghans pushed for the attack. If MSF’s descriptions of conditions in the hospital are correct — and there’s no reason to doubt it — that in no way excuses the attack. But it may explain it.

The report also includes this striking summary of MSF’s attempts to communicate to DOD they had been targeted (according to the report the strike started some time between 2:00 and 2:08 AM).

MSF made multiple calls and SMS contacts in an attempt to stop the airstrikes:

At 2.19am, a call was made from MSF representative in Kabul to Resolute Support in Afghanistan informing them that the hospital had been hit in an airstrike

At 2.20am, a call was made from MSF representative in Kabul to ICRC informing them that the hospital had been hit in an airstrike

At 2.32am a call was made from MSF Kabul to OCHA Civil Military (CivMil) liaison in Afghanistan to inform of the ongoing strikes

At 2.32am a call was made by MSF in New York to US Department of Defense contact in Washington informing of the airstrikes

At 2.45am an SMS was received from OCHA CivMil in Afghanistan to MSF in Kabul confirming that the information had been passed through “several channels”

At 2.47am, an SMS was sent from MSF in Kabul to Resolute Support in Afghanistan informing that one staff was confirmed dead and many were unaccounted for

At 2.50am MSF in Kabul informed Afghan Ministry of Interior at Kabul level of the airstrikes. Afghan Ministry of Interior replied that he would contact ground forces

At 2.52am a reply was received by MSF in Kabul from Resolute Support stating “I’m sorry to hear that, I still do not know what happened”

At 2.56am an SMS was sent from MSF in Kabul to Resolute Support insisting that the airstrikes stop and informing that we suspected heavy casualties

At 2.59am an SMS reply was received by MSF in Kabul from Resolute Support saying ”I’ll do my best, praying for you all”

At 3.04am an SMS was sent to Resolute Support from MSF in Kabul that the hospital was on fire

At 3.07am an SMS was sent from MSF in Kabul to OCHA CivMil that the hospital was on fire

At 3.09am an SMS was received by MSF in Kabul from OCHA CivMil asking if the incoming had stopped

At 3.10am and again at 3.14am, follow up calls were made from MSF New York to the US Department of Defense contact in Washington regarding the ongoing airstrikes

At 3.13am an SMS was sent from MSF in Kabul to OCHA CivMil saying that incoming had stopped

At 3.15am an SMS was received from CivMil OCHA stating that information had been passed to Resolute Support in the North and CJOC in Kabul as well as ANA in Kabul and the North

At 3.18am an SMS was sent from MSF in New York to US Department of Defence contact in Washington that one staff was confirmed dead and many were unaccounted for

Presumably, MSF released their report to get their side of the story out and add to pressure for an independent investigation. We’ll see whether it works.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

29 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    this is what the american military has become:

    in any battle, we must win.

    no laws or rules will impede our drive to win.

    we will cheat to win whenever necessary.
    .
    .
    this is, of course, folly, ahistorical folly of the most foolish sort.

    there are long time worked out rules of war. they are designed to protect combatants equally.

  2. orionATL says:

    the american military’s killing and wounding of msf doctors and other medical personnel and civilians to get at wounded taliban fighters has a peculiar analogue:

    that analogue is with the american military’s use of doctors and nurses and psychologists to conduct torture at guantanamo. it is with the american paramiltary’s (read cia) infiltration and suborning of leadership of the american psychology association to validate torture and discredit crititcs of torture.

    vincemus!

  3. Jim White says:

    .
    I’m wondering if those calls from Taliban folks checking on the status of their high ranking folks who were being treated somehow got construed as the high ranking folks “orchestrating” Taliban activity? Since we know the US got back into the collection of all comms, it seems like those calls might pop up as the MSF facility suddenly being a new node in mapping relationships.

  4. orionATL says:

    connect the dots:

    this –
    [… Another official privately told The Daily Beast that failures with the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System-Army, a multibillion-dollar intelligence computer system that is supposed to locate civilian targets, contributed to confusion about the true nature of the target.…]
    .
    with this –

    u.s. general services administration proposes $50 billion contract to secure government computer systems.
    .

    a flood of privately prepared government computer systems.

    • Cujo359 says:

      a flood of privately prepared government computer systems.

      That flood happened a long time ago. The floodwaters were there as far back as the mid 1980s.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    It is US military policy to destroy hospitals believed to be used by the enemy.
    .
    Oct 27
    A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in northern Yemen was bombed Monday night by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition. [using US targeting intell]

    • Danny Prior says:

      @Don Bacon “It is US military policy to destroy hospitals believed to be used by the enemy.”

      Which policy is that exactly? That would be a clear breach of stated policy and international war. “War is hell” wasn’t a defence at the Nuremberg Tribunal, and whether ‘victors justice’ is no excuse for injustice. Your attitude is appalling and no better than trolling. These matters should be investigated even if a prosecution is unrealistic.

      • bevin says:

        “These matters should be investigated even if a prosecution is unrealistic.”
        It seems pretty clear that a war crime was committed. As Don Bacon points out similar crimes are routinely committed by US forces, acting under the highest political authority.
        Prosecution is only “unrealistic” in the sense that it would involve the trial not of a low ranking scapegoat but of a row of dominoes leading right back to the Joint Chiefs and their bosses.
        Significantly there is news today of Israeli soldiers rampaging through a hospital in Jerusalem, for the third day in a row.

        • Danny Prior says:

          A war crime was committed, no question, but when we just accept war-crimes as inevitable then they are our crimes, not the criminals. Whistleblowers stop coming forward, good people stop intervening.

          US war criminals are exempt from the ICC but not from US law. If you lot just give up then you are complicit. Your outrage, your decency, your investigations, is what stops the rest of us killing you all indiscriminately, not fear of your military as some of them seem to think.

          Take the torture at Abu Ghraib, I only know about the bad americans there because of good americans there. I’ve tried to prosecute that and will continue to whenever the bad guys are within my jurisdiction. By contrast the revelations were no surprise to local Afghans who all knew about it and considered all americans to be bad.

          War crimes stop being crimes only when we accept them as inevitable.

  6. TarheelDem says:

    The public needs to know who gave the order to destroy the hospital, knowing that it was a hospital. This clearly was not a matter of ambiguity or the fog of war. From how high up the chain of command did the order come?

    I’m not buying “the computer fouled up” story.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Okay, THD, I’ll bite — Why does the public need to know who gave the order? (not that they would ever disclose it) Do you expect that there would ever be some reckoning over one example of a type of attack that is customary?
      .
      IOW this is akin to a cop shooting an unarmed man in the back. C’est la vie. And war is hell.

      • P J Evans says:

        It’s a war crime. Treating two high-ranking Taliban doesn’t change that.
        And cops shooting unarmed people in the back is murder. Being cops doesn’t change that.

    • Ambrellite says:

      A computer error would be no better, as it would expose a largely automated process of selecting targets, without regard for rules of engagement and international law.

      It’s either deliberate murder, or deliberate manslaughter, akin to shooting into a crowd with only the vague intention of hitting a bad guy.

  7. DannyD says:

    So far, the DOD’s strategy has worked pretty well….delay, delay, delay, until there is more interesting news in the 24-hour cycle that will distract and provide cover. I expect that they’ll declare the report secret too, leading to a 2-year FOIA battle over it’s release. Accountability is for the little people and we’ve got a 15 year war going on to secure Afghanistan’s vast mineral deposits ( http://nyti.ms/18VgyBo ).

    Don’t believe the terrorist hype, it’s always about the money.

  8. orionATL says:

    tarheeldem’s question is important for establishing the details of responsibility beyond “the u.s. did it”, which we already know.

    suppose the order was a standing order from centcom, in other words, way up the chain of command . that would seem to be a far more serious matter for any tribunal to consider than if a captain called in an air strike.

    the nature of the act would not change, but the degree of the u.s. war bureaucracy’s certainly would.

    for example, did the residents of a village get slaughtered with machine gun fire because a lieutenant ordered it, or because a general or a war machine had a standing policy?

    • Don Bacon says:

      It probably wasn’t a standing order, it is simple policy as I have documented previously concerning Fallujah, Iraq, and above concerning Yemen. There must be many other cases not reported. Enemy forces believed to be in a hospital — destroy it.
      .
      Of course I can’t predict the future, but the probability is that this will be swept under the rug, as it has been to date, because the military isn’t terribly concerned about it. There won’t be any “tribunal.” The regular army would never cross special forces, for one thing, or do so at their peril.
      .
      The US is not a party to the Rome Convention and so the ICC does not apply — that’s principally for Africans, and never for Americans.
      .
      Regarding Nuremburg, as some genius has mentioned above, Noam Chomsky had an amusing anecdote on that. A German submarine captain, in the dock for sinking a civilian ship, was let go when he brought up his defense– US submarines sank civilian ships.

      • orionATL says:

        “not a standing order, but simple policy.”

        i think that is about right.

        after all, bombing anywhere the enemy is guessed to be is certainly american policy.

        no one who follows american military behavior in the middle east could fail to understand that the hospital was deliberately bombed by americans because they guessed it contained enemy soldiers.

        • Don Bacon says:

          Thanks. But beyond that–war is not rational.
          .
          People who think the The Marquess of Queensberry rules apply to a to-the-death knife fight piss me off. You go to a strange land, and you kill everything that moves. That’s just the way it is.

          • orionATL says:

            now we are getting to the core of the matter. war is a human invention that no other species engages in. )but then, right off, i recall that lions resolutely kill cheeta cubs.) ok. so no other species than human primates engages in resolute, planned intra-species murder.

            if war is, at it certainly seems, an ingrained characteristic of our species, like language and hidden ovulation, then we may expect the worst of any human social group engaged in war.

            but that’s were the benefit of rules of warfare come in. they might be considered an attempt by participants to begin to mitigate the human primate’s destructive but genetically mandated wsrring behavior.

            • orionATL says:

              moving back to practical politics, the american attack on the hospital raises questions of military discipline and
              competence, namely:

              it could be a very long time before this instance of what can be construed as ametican military barbarism (like wedding parties in the desert) is forgotten.

              even if there were “two top taliban leaders” being treated in the hospital or taliban shielding themselves there, is it not politically stupid in the extreme to attack the hospital for such a small gain with such enormous potential to allienate supporters and generate propaganda ?

              and is it not incompetent military conduct to bomb a hospital?

              the u.s.’s repeated reports ovef 15 years of killing, viz, “top taliban leaders” has become a joke, e.g., this is the third #2 al-q leader the u.s. has killed this year – oh really.

              within the year, the u.s.’s throat-slitters killed a “top isil leader” in a raid in syria and captured his wife. but then questions arose: was he that important? was he really the financial guru, or was it the recruitment guru, or maybe the logistics guru, of isil?

              was it really worth the potential political damage to bomb the hospital for “a few more dead men”?

              this question is different from the question of an artificial intelligence computer system making bombing decisions, but the two are now running parallel together. and the interference, one to the other, could be explosive indeed.

              when will we submit our nuclear weaponry to the control of artificial intelligence computer systems :)

  9. scribe says:

    What you’ve left out from your otherwise comprehensive (as usual) report is that there are multiple reports today that the airstrike followed and shot (at) people running away from the impact area of the bombing and initial strafing.
    .
    E.g., http://abcnews.go.com/International/us-airstrikes-hit-doctors-borders-hospital-people-flee/story?id=34993960
    .

    Doctors Without Borders today released an internal review of the U.S. attack on its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, citing accounts that some people were fired on as they tried to escape the main building.
    .
    The report revealed new insight into what the humanitarian group says happened on the night of Oct. 3, when U.S. airstrikes mistakenly killed 30 MSF hospital staff and patients.
    .
    “Many staff describe seeing people being shot, most likely from the plane, as people tried to flee the main hospital building that was being hit with each airstrike,” reads the report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as the organization is known internationally. “Some accounts mention shooting that appears to follow the movement of people on the run.”

    .
    In other words, to put it quite bluntly, they stomped on an anthill and then went after the individual ants running to get away. No mistakes there.

    • Jim White says:

      .

      In other words, to put it quite bluntly, they stomped on an anthill and then went after the individual ants running to get away.

      .
      In drone lingo, they are referred to as “squirters”.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Going “after the individual ants running to get away” is a variation of the “double tap” — bombing a building then bombing or shooting the first responders.
      .
      Had a fellow years ago describe a situation in the Korean War which might be called a three-pass, triple tap by the US. 1. high explosive bombs on civilian buildings to blow them apart, 2. incendiary bombs to set the destroyed wooden structures afire and 3. fragmentation bombs for the fleers and responders.

  10. bernard says:

    A USA government official later asked Doctors Without Borders whether the Kunduz hospital or another of the organization’s locations had significant numbers of Taliban militants “holed up” inside. The group responded by saying casualties included wounded Taliban combatants. On October 2, one day before the airstrike, hospital staff placed two Doctors Without Borders flags on the roof.

    http://www.newsweek.com/msf-releases-damning-review-kunduz-airstrikes-killed-30-staff-and-patients-391200

  11. bell says:

    all happening under the nobel peace prize president’s watch too.. don’t expect any accountability.. when has it ever been coming from the us of a?”

  12. haarmeyer says:

    MSF reported two activities on Thursday October 1 that its General Director was asked about during his press conference, and told reporters not to read to much into — the email from US about Taliban “holed up” in the hospital, and a warning from the UN OCHA civilian military liaison about staying within GPS coordinates. Something was afoot by that time, the US knew it, MSF knew it, the UN knew it. We need to know what, and what exactly people said to each other.

    MSF also reports that only on October 2 did they put flags on the roof, and the flags were their own logo, not the protective emblems of the 4th Geneva Convention or the 3rd Additional Protocol. As a long time contributor to MSF and someone who knows several of their physicians and veterans and keeps in touch with some in the organization, I’m pretty disappointed about the scramble to pretend that they used physical symbols of distinction properly, which they didn’t. GPS signals are fine, but they are supposed to fly symbols showing they are a protected facility. The fact that they fly their own logo seems like playing with their own peoples’ lives.

    I think there is more to hear from both sides of this dispute. An email is not a warning or anything close to one, and won’t justify deciding they’ve lost protected status as far as the US military is concerned. And an MSF flag is not a protected emblem and even if it was, it can’t be a last minute afterthought after 130 wounded people have flooded the place and the UN has warned about bombers in the air on the MSF side.

    Meanwhile there are quite a few hospitals that have been bombed near or since the same date elsewhere. Are we going to treat them as important to uphold the Geneva Conventions, or only this one? In particular, the picture of the bombed Dar al Shifa hospital in Aleppo shows prominently displayed Red Crescents still on the bombed out building.

Comments are closed.