We need an independent investigation into U.S. airstrike on Afghanistan hospital

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We need an independent investigation into U.S. airstrike on Afghanistan hospital

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In the middle of the night on October 3, 2015, U.S. military forces launched a deadly airstrike against a hospital in Kunduz, operated by the international charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders. The attack killed 42 people and injured dozens more. For more than a half hour, a U.S. warship rained 211 shells onto the hospital, despite MSF frantically calling both U.S. and Afghan military officials in an attempt to stop the airstrikes. The attack was met with an international outcry, with MSF condemning the U.S. and allied forces for their violation of international humanitarian law. In the U.S., a number of Congress members called on President Obama and the Pentagon to conduct a full investigation into what went wrong. MSF has repeatedly stated that they had given the exact coordinates for the location of the hospital to the U.S. military and allied forces, most recently on September 29.

In the days after the attack, the Pentagon offered contradictory statements about exactly what happened. A press release from the Pentagon on October 3 acknowledged “collateral damage” while people burned alive in hospital beds. On October 4, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claimed that American forces were under attack. The next day, then-U.S. army general John Campbell claimed that Afghan forces were under attack and had called in for assistance. It must be noted here that the AC-130 warship cannot fire without direct command.

On April 29, 2016, U.S. Central Command released a heavily-redacted final investigation report that absolves the Pentagon of any war crime. “Condolence” payments - $3,000 to those injured and $6,000 to the families of those killed - were given to the victims in the aftermath of the airstrike. The U.S. Department of Defense has rationed $5.7 million for the purpose of rebuilding the trauma center operated by MSF in Kunduz.

We know that 16 U.S. military personnel were accused of errors that led to the attack and were given administrative reprimand. Instead of these individuals being held accountable in a court of law either in the U.S. or in Afghanistan, however, the airstrike is being blamed on the “fog of war.” Calling the attack a “mistake” and an “unintentional error” does not absolve the guilt of those who committed this crime.

This is an injustice and an affront to the Afghan patients, doctors, nurses, and MSF staff who were murdered in the early hours of October 3 last year.

MSF has reacted to this report with an initial statement saying:

The administrative punishments announced by the US today are out of proportion to the destruction of a protected medical facility, the deaths of 42 people, the wounding of dozens of others, and the total loss of vital medical services to hundreds of thousands of people. The lack of meaningful accountability sends a worrying signal to warring parties, and is unlikely to act as a deterrent against future violations of the rules of war.

At the same time, it has become clear that the victims and their families have neither the option to pursue legal action against the US military, either in Afghanistan or in the US, nor to claim compensation for loss of life and livelihood. This has only compounded the devastation of the attack.

The human cost of this war crime continues beyond the October 3 airstrike. The whole city of Kunduz is now without a hospital, as MSF has been forced to evacuate the area. This means that tens of thousands of people are without access to emergency medical and surgical healthcare in a city that has been devastated by intense fighting. Some survivors of the attack, like Khalid Ahmad, will suffer from lifelong permanent disabilities. And, without accountability, the U.S. military will continue to justify its war crimes. 

Many important questions remain unanswered. We echo MSF in asking, "Who within the chain of command is ultimately responsible for the deaths of 42 people, and how is that person being held accountable?"

Afghans United For Justice demands:

  • An independent investigation of the Kunduz hospital bombing, outside of the chain of command.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense release the names of all 16 U.S. Military personnel involved in this attack.
  • The Afghan Unity Government bring the 16 U.S. military personnel to trial and prosecute them in Afghanistan.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense release all footage and recordings captured by the AC-130 warship before, during, and after the attack.
  • Lifelong medical coverage for all permanently disabled and injured victims of the attack.
  • Proper compensation to all victims.

We cannot allow this war crime to pass unnoticed. We need to hold the U.S. military accountable. The Pentagon cannot conduct an impartial investigation of its own actions. We need an independent investigation outside of the chain of command.

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