Is it now open season on hospitals?

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is reporting that another one of their hospitals has been bombed. This time it is in Yemen where Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of states that is seeking to restore the government that was toppled by rebels. This follows the bombing of an MSF hospital in Afghanistan by the US and the bombing of a Syrian hospital by the Russians.

“Our hospital in the Heedan district of Saada governorate was hit several times. Fortunately, the first hit damaged the operations theater while it was empty and the staff were busy with people in the emergency room. They just had time to run off as another missile hit the maternity ward,” MSF country director Hassan Boucenine told Reuters by telephone from Yemen.

“It could be a mistake, but the fact of the matter is it’s a war crime. There’s no reason to target a hospital. We provided (the coalition) with all of our GPS coordinates about two weeks ago.” He said at least two staff members had been hurt by flying debris.

The attack occurred on Monday night in north Yemen’s Saada province, a region controlled by Houthi forces. The state news agency Saba, run by the Houthis, said other air strikes had hit a nearby girls’ school and damaged several civilian homes.

It was not immediately possible to confirm that report.

MSF said the hospital had been hit by missiles from coalition jets.

Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said in an electronic message that coalition jets had been in action over Saada governorate. But, when asked if they had hit the hospital, he said: “Not at all”, and that only an investigation would show the cause of the blasts.

Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that the Kunduz hospital was deliberately targeted by American Green Berets even though they knew it was a hospital, because they thought that the Taliban was there though no evidence supports that claim. The death toll there has risen to 30.

Taken together, the revelations add to the growing possibility that U.S. forces destroyed what they knew was a functioning hospital, which would be a violation of the international rules of war. The Pentagon has said Americans would never have intentionally fired on a medical facility, and it’s unclear why the Green Beret unit requested the strike — and how such an attack was approved by the chain of command — on coordinates widely known to have included a hospital.

Even if the U.S. believed the Taliban were operating from the hospital, the presence of wounded patients inside would have made an air attack on it problematic under standard American rules of engagement and the international law of war.

A senior Green Beret officer has told superiors that his troops, accompanying Afghan security forces, were under fire and in danger, according to a former government official familiar with his account.

Doctors without Borders denies that any fire was coming from its compound. And even if it was, it’s unclear why any U.S. forces outside those walls could not have moved to safer ground. [My italics-MS]

Also a mystery is why the AC-130 gunship would have kept firing during the course of an hour on a building that both the Air Force and the Army knew was an internationally run trauma center. To avoid civilian casualties, a gunship would typically stop firing as soon as it achieved its objective — in this case, ostensibly, protecting U.S. forces. Generally, the aircraft would require further clearance from the troops on the ground to continue firing.

Of course, the US continues to stonewall calls for an independent investigation and says it has dispatched a general to the region to carry it out because we all know that the best people to investigate a crime is to have the friends of the criminals do so. Similarly the Saudis will claim that only they can do the investigation on the latest hospital bombing in Yemen and so will the Russians about the hospital they bombed in Syria.


  1. fentex says

    I don’t think you should write ‘bombed’ in reference to the attack on the MSF Hospital in Kunduz.

    ‘Attacked’ is more correct because the weapon used was a C-130 gunship that used guns fired directly at the hospital reportedly in five quarter hour straffing attacks.

    When one writes ‘bombed’ there is an opportunity to think a single miss-directed attack occurred where one or more bombs were accidentally miss-targeted by a pilot out of contact with the target.

    This is not what happened. An aircraft that knew very well where it was, in direct line of sight, with gunners looking straight at their target, made five separate attacks on purpose on the MSF hospital. This was not an error. It was not a mistake.

    U.S military personnel deliberately committed a war crime by purposefully, and knowingly, attacking a hospital with the intention of killing occupants. It is simply incredible to characterise that attack any other way.

  2. Mano Singham says


    I take your point. However the word ‘attacked’ seems insufficient since it does not indicate the scale of the damage and does not imply that any damage even occurred at all.

  3. yaque says

    Another thing,
    IANAL, under the laws of war,
    you can return fire on a civilian building if you’re being fired upon from it, even if it’s a school. The war crime is on those firing on you.
    BUT, you cannot fire on a hospital under any circumstances, even if you’re being machine-gunned from the windows.
    The difference is AFAIK, is that schoolchildren, etc. have the ability to escape on their own. Bedridden patients do not. As horrifically witnessed in the Kunduz case.
    There is no excuse for the crew of the C-130 or the soldiers who called it in.

  4. al kimeea says

    Shredded would be apt for having 100-200 rpm of 30mm cannon pounded at you for 75 min. Depending on plane variant. Maybe 20 or 40mm. Explosive shells though, so sorta bombing.

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