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US continues war crimes in Afghanistan


November 10, 2015

A year ago US President Barack Obama announced that “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

What a shock then for patients and staff at the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, when the US bombed the facility last month—killing 30 people, including 10 patients and 13 members of MSF (Doctors Without Borders).

War crime

As the executive director of the humanitarian aid organization described, “In Kunduz our patients burned in their beds. MSF doctors, nurses, and other staff were killed as they worked. Our colleagues had to operate on each other. One of our doctors died on an improvised operating table—an office desk—while his colleagues tried to save his life.”

The US military’s first response was to dismiss it, claiming the attack on Taliban fighters “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” As with so many of the war crimes committed in Afghanistan over the years, the attack was not an accident but intentional. As MSF representative Meinie Nicolai described, “There have been several rounds of very targeted and very precise bombing of that hospital. The hospital went in flames. Patients that couldn’t move burned in their beds. The shrapnel bombs that they used amputated the legs of doctors and nurses, and even one of our staff was decapitated. And on top of that, what we’ve heard from our staff is that from the plane, people who were fleeing the building were shot at.”

Imperial justifications

MSF had sent the US military their precise coordinates days before the attack and also contacted them during the attack, so it could not have been a mistake. The explanation then shifted to justification—claiming the hospital was a Taliban base.

As the aid organization wrote, “MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and US 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. This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the US government to minimize the attack as ‘collateral damage.’ There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds. MSF reiterates its demand for a full transparent and independent international investigation.”

Instead, NATO have claimed to be carrying out their own investigation, which included sending in a tank to demolish evidence. As MSF wrote, “Their unannounced and forced entry damaged property, destroyed potential evidence and caused stress and fear.” While demanding an impartial inquiry, MSF have conducted their own report based on 60 interviews with staff present at the time of the attack—which confirms their previous statements.

As investigate journalist Glenn Greenwald explained, “There’s something significantly different about this incident that has caused this ‘mistake’ claim to fail. Usually, the only voices protesting or challenging the claims of the U.S. military are the foreign, non-western victims who live in the cities and villages where the bombs fall. Those are easily ignored, or dismissed as either ignorant or dishonest. Those voices barely find their way into U.S. news stories, and when they do, they are stream-rolled by the official and/or anonymous claims of the U.S. military, which are typically treated by U.S. media outlets as unassailable authority. In this case, though, the U.S. military bombed the hospital of an organization – Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) – run by western-based physicians and other medical care professionals. They are not so easily ignored.”

Stop the war

This war crime, and its justifications, gives a glimpse into the years of terror unleashed on the people of Afghanistan. Attacking medical facilities is routine behaviour for imperial wars. In October 2001 the US bombed a Red Cross facility in Afghanistan twice, last year Israel shelled hospitals in Gaza, and last month the Western-backed and Saudi-led coalition attacked a hospital in Yemen.

This gives the lie to imperial justifications. In 2001 NATO launched the war to “liberate women” and instead supported misogynist warlords. NATO occupied the country for 13 years to “bring development” and only brought war crimes and more poverty. Now after claiming to have “ended combat operations” the US has bombed a hospital and then drove over the evidence of the war crime.

It’s time for a real end to the war, and reparations for the people of Afghanistan.

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