Another War Crime Because We Relied on Unreliable Allies

Just days after the attack on Médecins Sans Frontières, I said that all the available evidence suggested the Afghans asked us to target the hospital — claiming it was being used by Taliban — and we did so, without the vetting that should have prevented the attack.

The AP reports that appears to be precisely what happened.

[T]here are mounting indications the U.S. military relied heavily on its Afghan allies who resented the internationally run hospital, which treated Afghan security forces and Taliban alike but says it refused to admit armed men.

The new evidence includes details the AP has learned about the location of American troops during the attack. The U.S. special forces unit whose commander called in the strike was under fire in the Kunduz provincial governor’s compound a half-mile away from the hospital, according to a former intelligence official who has reviewed documents describing the incident. The commander could not see the medical facility — so couldn’t know firsthand whether the Taliban were using it as a base — and sought the attack on the recommendation of Afghan forces, the official said.

[snip]

The AP has reported that some American intelligence suggested the Taliban were using the hospital. Special forces and Army intelligence analysts were sifting through reports of heavy weapons at the compound, and they were tracking a Pakistani intelligence operative they believed was there.

It’s unclear how much of that intelligence came from Afghan special forces, who had raided the hospital in July, seeking an al-Qaida member they believed was being treated there, despite protests from Doctors Without Borders. After the American air attack, the Afghan soldiers rushed in, looking for Taliban fighters, Doctors without Borders said.

While it appears DOD is still sorting through where the intelligence it had came from, there seems to be one more question. MSF’s own report strongly suggests that the hospital was bombed to flush the two higher ranking Taliban out of the hospital (one is presumably the Pakistani mentioned by the AP; make sure to read scribe’s comment in that thread). That is, the attack looks very similar to the double tap drone strikes the US has used (most reports of such strikes are from Pakistan), hitting targets with a drone then hitting those who give aid. So it’s not impossible something similar was done here (though I’m not claiming that would mean the targeters knew it was an MSF hospital).

Is that what happened? And if so, how much were Afghans driving that?

And did the Afghans — did we? — capture or kill the ranking Taliban members at the hospital?

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.

18 replies
  1. ek hornbeck says:

    And the answer is…

    It doesn’t matter. It was a War Crime.

    You’re not allowed to blow up Hospitals.

    Period.

    Everyone involved, from the trigger puller to the top of the chain-of-command should spend the rest of their life in Spandau.

    • Carl Weetabix says:

      It’s hard to believe they don’t already know what the truth is. All this posturing about, “maybe it was this, maybe it was that,” just doesn’t sound plausible to me. They know who ordered it, they know who took the order, and they know who executed the order. I and people I work with solve far more complicated “whodunit?” questions on a daily basis through emails and a few phone calls. They’ve had weeks.

      Yeah, there are lots of nuanced details to fill in I am sure. We don’t need that, we need the simple answer of who the #$%^ they think is responsible for nuking the hospital and why? Those basic questions aren’t that complicated and doesn’t require a 6 month investigation to provide, unless of course the length of the investigation is a feature, not a bug.

      It’s possible that they are holding back because they truly don’t know, but again that seems implausible. Which leaves me with the other reason why they hold back – the don’t like the truth of what they found. If they did like what they found, we’d be hearing a short and simple answer, not waiting for our collective attention spans to be exceeded.

  2. pdaly says:

    I think you meant to write ‘Taliban’ instead of “MSF” in this sentence:
    .
    “the Afghans asked us to target the hospital — claiming it was being used by MSF”

    • Don Bacon says:

      She’s correct on “double tap,” as on other matters.
      .
      On the rest of it, I’ve staked out my arguments, and good luck on getting justice in this matter. History would be made.

    • emptywheel says:

      The term originally describes the way SOF kills people with two quick bullets.

      It has come to be used with drone strikes that use two quick attacks to get both the targets and their associates.

      I’m not saying this is precisely the same, but by attacking the hospital than capturing/killing the fleeing Taliban inside, the effect is largely the same.

      • orionATL says:

        full on with your extension of the term, and my apologies for playing usage referee.

        the use of “double tap” here sharpens the sense of the depth of brutality that transpired at kandahar.

        in the lexicon of war horror, it’s akin to don bacon’s reference to “squirters”, which term i can’t get out of my mind.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I suspect Mr. Eisler would agree, though I think the double tap to center mass is often followed by a round higher up. The French have a name for it.

  3. Carl Weetabix says:

    If they release the tape of the pilots and it doesn’t have them asking if shooting a hospital is legal, then I might believe this scenario. Until then it seems more intentional FUD (or at least UD) to leave us scratching our heads on what otherwise looks like a clear case of a US war crime.

    I’m not saying I know what the truth is, but my guess is they know exactly what the truth is and probably did within days if not hours. The rest is just waiting for the public to get bored and at the same time to allow multiple competing stories to generate. By doing so they ensure if the truth ever gets out it will never be believed by swaths of the population and FOX will have wonderful plausible deniability to weave against any revelations.

    And why not release the tapes if it will prove their story? Because it probably doesn’t.

    Doubt is their friend, and they use it well.

  4. TarheelDem says:

    The obvious question is whether, having pushed so hard to get them, the United States intends to support the Geneva Conventions anymore. Or did that fundamentally go out the window when Allen Dulles brought ex-Nazis into CIA operations years ago.

    The article seems to indicate that at least the special forces unit commander is the designated scapegoat, who will come forward with a “mitigating circumstances” defense. Doubt it will go as far as Lynndie England’s prosecution. Court martial theater and exonerated is my guess.

    We know the US precedents for routinely attacking hospitals. So the military believes that it can so long as it is not ordered not to apparently.

    • orionATL says:

      indeed. one of the cia’s go-to guys.

      he doesn’t disgrace the latimes these days, not that they would notice.

  5. bevin says:

    “The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is appalled by the continuing attacks on health care facilities in Yemen, the latest of which took place in the city of Taiz. “Al-Thawra hospital, one of the main health care facilities in Taiz which is providing treatment for about 50 injured people every day was reportedly shelled several times on Sunday. The shelling endangered the lives of patients and staff on site,” said the deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, Kedir Awol Omar. It is not the first time health facilities have been attacked. An MSF hospital in Haydan district of Saada was also attacked on the 26th of October. Close to a hundred similar incidents have been reported since March 2015…..”

    No Afghans here.

  6. orionATL says:

    having lived in a country where hospitals were non-existant in the countryside and hence city hospitals were vital care centers for those seriously ill or injured who could make it there, it occurs to me that the destruction of a hospital plant in a poor country is an especially heinous activity because rebuilding is so time-consuming and expensive. any rebuilding would leave so many from possibly hundreds of miles around without those serious medical facilities a hospital offers.

    thus, not only may rare and valuable medical personnel be killed or injured in a strike against a hospital, but likely thousands of civilians would be denied care in the course of a year.

    all this to kill a few opposing soldiers in the heat of a firefight.

    not only is such an atrocious act a crime, but in my view it shows, again, a very poorly disciplined side of the american military.

Comments are closed.