Last night I wrote about the interesting differences between America’s reactions to Russian-caused civilian casualties in Syria and Saudi-caused civilian casualties in Yemen. Then we got a horrifying reminder that America sometimes gets into the civilian casualty business itself:
A hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz was badly damaged early Saturday after being hit by what appears to have been an American airstrike. At least 19 people were killed, including 12 hospital staff members, and dozens wounded.
The United States military, in a statement, confirmed an airstrike at 2:15 a.m., saying that it had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”
While you’re feeling righteous about Russia, or the Saudis, or even while you’re feeling sorrow and/or impotent rage about Thursday’s shooting in Oregon, spare a thought for the 19-plus people who were killed overnight when the United States Air Force bombed a hospital for reasons that surpass my understanding. And while my fellow lefties are getting some yuks at JEB’s expense today, consider that there’s really no difference in sentiment between “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility” and “stuff happens.”
That New York Times report raises a large number of very troubling questions about this attack that need to be investigated. Was it an accident? If so, then please to explain this:
In a statement, the aid group accused the American military of continuing the bombing for 30 minutes after receiving phone calls telling military contacts that the hospital was being bombed.
“All parties to the conflict including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location [GPS Coordinates] of the MSF facilities — hospital, guesthouse, office,” the statement said. “MSF urgently seeks clarity on exactly what took place and how this terrible event could have happened,” it said.
Mistakes happen in the heat of battle, but the most charitable explanation of what happened in this case involves a level of incompetence beyond “mistakes.” If you can’t read a set of GPS coordinates and can’t quickly relay updated information to forces in the field, then it seems to me that you’ve got some major logistical problems that need to be worked out and you should probably put away any heavy explosive devices until you’ve sorted them out.
But maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Was the attack meant to strike Taliban fighters in the area? Were there any Taliban fighters in the area?
Accounts differed as to whether there had been fighting around the hospital that might have precipitated the strike. Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters in the hospital.
But a Kunduz police spokesman, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, insisted that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position.
Although, you know, how much does this really matter? If a group of enemy fighters did hole up in this hospital, would it have made more sense to simply steer clear of the hospital or to blow it up? I don’t know the specific details, but the bar for deciding “well, this strike might blow up that hospital, but it’s worth it” should be pretty high.
I’m sorry to keep stressing the word hospital, but this was a fucking hospital that we blew up. A hospital, by the way, that the goddamn Taliban didn’t touch when they captured Kunduz. We’ve risked ceding the moral high ground to the Taliban, a group whose ~five day control over Kunduz has been so shockingly brutal that Amnesty International is already putting out reports on its human rights violations there. Think about that for a while, let it really roll around in your brain.
And let’s not totally discount the possibility that something more sinister might have been going on:
The hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked the Afghan security forces.
Those damn doctors, always treating sick and injured people without bothering to find out whether they’re Good Guys or Bad Guys first.
Without taking anything away from the immediate damage this attack did, the 19 (at least) lives it cost and the 37 (at least) people it injured (who knows how seriously), consider also the longer-term damage it will do. Whatever civilian population is left in Kunduz, which is still an active war zone, now has no hospital serving it. The Afghan government, should it eventually retake the city, is going to have a harder time keeping the people there happy and in check because of what its American ally/patron has done, and who knows how this will reverberate throughout the rest of the country. The United States has actually made serious efforts to reduce and better target its bombing campaign in Afghanistan, to the point where a July UN report said that “foreign troops” were only responsible for 1% of the civilian casualties seen in Afghanistan over the first half of this year. But an incident like this can flip that entire narrative on its head.
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