The whitewashing of the bombing of the MSF hospital in Kunduz resumes

The US military has ‘investigated’ itself about the attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz that killed 30 people. The US commander in Afghanistan spoke at a press briefing today with the expected language, saying that ‘mistakes were made, equipment failed, and we will fix them’, so let’s forget about this and move on.

He detailed a series of blunders that ended in tragedy. The aircraft launched without a normal mission brief or essential materials, including no-strike designations that would have identified the location of the MSF centre.

During the flight, the onboard electronic systems malfunctioned, preventing the operation of command and control and limiting the ability to send email or video. In addition, as it arrived in Kunduz, it also mistakenly reported the aircraft had been targeted by a missile, putting it off course, and in turn degrading the accuracy of some targeting systems.

Even when these were corrected, the crew remained “fixated” on the physical description of their original target, Campbell admitted, even though there were some “contradictory indicators”.

The crew of the AC-130 gunship relied on a physical description of the compound provided by Afghan forces, which led the crew to attack the wrong target on 2 October. It said the intended target, thought to be under Taliban control and being used in part as a prison, was 450 yards away from the hospital.

Of course, the very fact that the US is resisting an independent investigation means that one has to suspect that they are hiding facts that contradict their claims of minimal wrongdoing. If the usual pattern holds, expect to see in the coming days careful analyses by outsiders of how the US’s explanations are contradicted by facts. Then the military will issue another report correcting their previous report while still claiming they were not guilty of a war crime. And that cycle will be repeated.

And the US media will aid in this process by suggesting that the military’s verdict is the last word on the topic, because independent investigations are only meant for those actions done by those perceived as enemies of the US.


  1. oualawouzou says

    Even *if* the chain of events reported turns out to be accurate and complete (BIG “if”)… how the hell could the mission be allowed to go on despite all of these “blunders”?! The plane is flying off-course, without essential data, without an efficient com link to base, and yet the crew bombs anyway because fuck it, while we’re here we might as well bomb something? It’s illegal to operate a car with malfunctionning headlights, but nobody so much as loses his job flying a bomber with little more than a vague idea of what its target is?!

  2. says

    As I mentioned before, bombing hospitals is practically a tradition. A B-52 dropped a whole string of bombs on a hospital in Hanoi. The USMC called artillery strikes in on the main hospital in Falluja. “Let no hospital stand untouched” is practically the motto of the US armed forces. No, wait, “War Crimes; It’s What We Do.”

  3. Dunc says

    It said the intended target, thought to be under Taliban control and being used in part as a prison, was 450 yards away from the hospital.

    Oh, come on… My smartphone can do better than that. Back when I was flight-simming, I could fly a pattern way tighter than that completely blind, with nothing more than the compass, the airspeed indicator, and a stopwatch -- and I was never very good. Yeah, yeah, obviously a combat situation is a whole other kettle of fish, but still -- you need to know roughly where you are to avoid flying into the landscape. Being 450m out on a low-altitude mission is insane.

    So basically, their defense boils down to “we’re hopelessly incompetent, but we’ll keep shooting even though we have no idea where we are or what we’re shooting at”…

    Also, two things come to mind here:

    It said the intended target, thought to be under Taliban control and being used in part as a prison

    A: “Thought to be”?

    B: If they’re using it as a prison, you’re going to end up killing the prisoners -- who are presumably the people you’re supposed to be trying to help. Nice one guys, thanks a lot.

  4. AstroKid Nj says

    “We are good people. Our intentions are good. Any ruin we do is at worst a tragic mistake” seems to be the motto of Empires.

    Sam Harris effectively plays this trick by repeatedly bringing up “intentions”. In his latest interview with Salon, he says:

    The regressive Left is blind to these distinctions. For instance, we recently bombed a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing 22 doctors, nurses, and patients. This was an utter tragedy—for the bombed, obviously, but also for U.S. foreign policy. It was obviously a mistake (on some level), because bombing this hospital was totally against our interests. The details are still unclear. Perhaps it will prove be a case of criminal negligence. But, judging from my Twitter feed, fans of Noam Chomsky reacted as if President Obama had called a meeting and declared his intention to destroy one of the most beloved charities on earth by murdering its staff en masse.
    We are better than our enemies…
    On the contrary, the Taliban still intends to kill Malala, and they have proudly told us so. And the ghoulish videos we see streaming out of ISIS are not their My Lai massacre. They’re not some moral error these people are struggling to correct. They reflect a sustained and conscious effort to put their best foot forward to the rest of the Muslim community.

    This guy thinks that My Lai was a “moral error that America struggled to correct”, implying that America put in lots of effort, punished those responsible, and prevented such things from happening again. Lieutenant Calley was the only guy convicted, and even he was quickly released by Nixon after public uproar in favor of Calley. And Nick Turse’s book “Kill anything that moves” shows how the military machine moved to cover up any other massacres of this nature.
    The Empire is just very good at covering up its evils. The Empire’s people are very good at considering themselves “the best people on this earth”.
    via Greenwald, I came across this 2013 article on Syria, where CNN’s Christian Amanpour says:

    “Wait just a second — Excuse me. Excuse me. The president of the United States and the most moral country in the world based on the most moral principles in the world … cannot allow this to go unchecked … And I’ll tell you what. President Clinton, 15, 16 years later, is still apologizing for Rwanda … I’m so emotional about this.”

    When it comes to foreign policy, Empire’s people largely come together.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    I believe this explanation. It never made any sense to me that some U.S. career officer at some level said, “Ooh, that hospital with wounded ISIS fighters inside it would sure make a juicy target. I’ll just order a strike on it – that’s sure to help my career.” My motto has always been “Never attribute to malice what can easily be explained by gross stupidity.”

    None of which excuses the attack at all. I’m no lawyer, but my understanding is that committing an act of “gross negligence” that kills a whole bunch of people would carry career-ending and possibly criminal penalties in any profession, whether against the doctor who cuts off the wrong leg or the engineer who doesn’t give enough supports to a bridge.

    Maybe a more independent investigation would catch a few extra higher-ups in the net. But I hope the response from the left is more based around finding the criminally negligent and making sure they are kicked out and punished, rather than sniffing around for an evil conspiracy that probably never existed.

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