The US and NATO commander in Afghanistan General John Campbell has now come out and said that the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz was a ‘mistake’ and that US forces were called in at the request of Afghan forces. But he also admitted that the strike had been approved after going through the US chain of command. He said that “Even though the Afghans request that support, it still has to go through a rigorous US procedure to enable fires to go on the ground. We had a special operations unit that was in close vicinity that was talking to the aircraft that delivered those fires,” which means that the special forces would have been involved in calling for the strike. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says that what the US has said so far amounts to an admission of a war crime.
It is becoming clear that the bombing of the hospital was not an error in that the bomb was intended for a different target but went astray. The hospital was clearly targeted and the only question now is why. Peter Maass says that while we cannot say for sure just yet, a case can be made that it was a war crime. It is important to realize that a war crime does not require deliberate intent to kill civilians. A reckless act that results in those deaths can be a war crime, as is a disproportionate response that does not take steps to mitigate the danger to civilians. This is why MSF is alleging a war crime.
Initial reports from the U.S. military alleged that U.S. forces were under attack in the vicinity of the hospital, prompting the airstrike. Gen. John Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, later said this was actually not the case and that it was Afghan forces that requested air support, though he also said, speaking in broad terms about sites like medical facilities and schools, that “we do not strike those kind of targets, obviously.” Afghan officials later claimed the “hospital campus was 100 percent used by the Taliban,” a charge that MSF strenuously denies.
Even if there was any truth to those allegations — and to date, no evidence has emerged of the Taliban fighting from the hospital grounds — the bombing would likely still be a violation of international law.
“These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present,” Christopher Stokes, MSF’s general director, said in a statement. “This amounts to an admission of a war crime.”
According to Jonathan Horowitz, a legal officer for the Open Society Justice Initiative who formerly worked as an adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, those who plan and decide attacks are required to “do everything feasible to verify that the objectives to be attacked are neither civilian nor civilian objects and are not subject to special protections. The planners must also take all feasible measure to choose the means and methods of attack with the view of avoiding, or at least minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life and injury to civilians and civilian objects.”
The statement by Campbell is the fourth different account given by the US government. MSF is not buying the latest story.
But Jason Cone, Doctors Without Borders’ US executive director, said Campbell’s shifting story underscored the need for an independent inquiry.
“Today’s statement from General Campbell is just the latest in a long list of confusing accounts from the US military about what happened in Kunduz on Saturday,” Cone said.
“They are now back to talking about a ‘mistake’. A mistake that lasted for more than an hour, despite the fact that the location of the hospital was well known to them and that they were informed during the airstrike that it was a hospital being hit. All this confusion just underlines once again the crucial need for an independent investigation into how a major hospital, full of patients and MSF staff, could be repeatedly bombed.”
As I said before, these shifting stories are all part of a standard plan. We are going through the usual obfuscatory process that the US government indulges in when it commits an atrocity so that people get confused about what may have actually happened and apologists can seize on the story that they think most excuses the act. We are witnessing yet again the various steps the US takes when its appalling actions come to light. (I have added a sixth (#5) to the five listed earlier.) The first is: We didn’t do it, it must have been someone else. Next we have: Well, let’s not jump to conclusions but wait and see for a full and thorough investigation that may take months or even years. The third is: We may have done it but we’ll have to look into what might have gone wrong. The fourth is: It looks like we did it but if we did it was justified because those devious enemies tricked us into doing it. The fifth is: It was the fault of our stupid allies who are not as careful as we are. And the sixth is: Yes we did it but we didn’t mean to, it was an accident due to the ‘fog-of-war’ etc. and we will pay compensation to the victims (ignoring the fact that there was absolutely no fog involved).
This whole process is designed so as to drag things out as long as possible before any responsibility is attached so that the American people will get bored with it and shift their attention to the next new shiny object: “Look, Donald Trump said something outrageous today!” This has been the practice numerous times, with the shooting down of the civilian Iranian Airbus airliner in 1988 by Ronald Reagan, the bombing of the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan by Bill Clinton in 1998, and the massacre of a village in Yemen in 2009 by Barack Obama.
As for the idea that the US will investigate and punish those responsibility for this atrocity, that is just a soothing story put out by the US government in the immediate aftermath of a ghastly occurrence like this in order to buy time and to pacify critics. You can be certain that nothing will happen to anyone. Remember the treatment of William Calley, the army officer who led the ghastly My Lai massacre? President Nixon came to his defense. And what about the captain and crew of the USS Vincennes that shot down the Iranian Airbus killing all 290 civilians on board? They were actually given medals of honor. What about the people responsible for the al Shifa bombing? Or the Yemeni massacre? Or indeed any of the other atrocities that the US government promised to investigate fully and punish those responsible?
Nothing will happen this time too.