MSF’s Kunduz hospital attacked for treating Taliban patients, says report

30 people were killed in the bombardment by U.S. forces on October 3

November 06, 2015 12:46 am | Updated 12:46 am IST

Humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), on Thursday, stated that their hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, came under precise and repeated airstrikes because they were treating Taliban patients.

The statement was a part of a 13-page internal assessment report on 60 debriefings of MSF employees who worked at the 140-bed trauma centre.

On the intervening night of October 3 and 4, U.S. military forces bombarded the facility, killing 30 people, including 13 members of MSF’s staff.

In an exclusive interview with The Hindu, MSF President Meinie Nicolai said they decided to make their findings public as, they had received ‘no answers’ so far.

“We decided to share with the public the facts, as far as we know them. While an international fact finding commission has been set up, there is little collaboration from the Afghanistan government and U.S. military. What we know does not explain anything at all. How did the hospital lose its protection? If it did indeed lose protection, we should have been given prior notice,” Ms. Nicolai said in the telephone interview.

‘No-weapons policy’

“Four years ago, before we started this hospital, we had negotiated with all parties involved in the conflict that we will be allowed to treat everyone who is wounded. We kept our commitment of ‘no-weapons’ policy on the premises. Yet, so far, we have received no answers to our questions,” she added

The internal report was handed over to the fact finding commission on Wednesday.

The report states that, “it is clear from the staff debriefings and photos that the main hospital building was the principal target of the attack.”

A week prior to the aerial attack, the Taliban had taken control of Kunduz. The report states that days before the attack, a U.S. government official based in Washington DC had approached MSF, asking whether the hospital, “had a large number of Taliban “holed up”.

“By September 30, we realised that two wounded Taliban patients [at the hospital] appeared to have had higher rank,” the report states.

In the week starting 28 September, due to the increased intensity of fighting, MSF had reaffirmed their GPS coordinates to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Afghan Ministry of Interior and Defense and the U.S. army in Kabul. The humanitarian organisation had placed two MSF flags on the roof of the hospital, in addition to the existing flags.

‘Not Taliban base’

“MSF had respected the ‘no-weapons’ policy in the Trauma Centre. What we know is that we were running a hospital treating patients, including wounded combatants from both sides – this was not a ‘Taliban base.’”

Yet the hospital came under relentless and brutal aerial attack by the U.S. forces.

Releasing the internal assessment report, MSF made a scathing statement that, “a functioning hospital caring for patients, such as the one in Kunduz, cannot simply lose its protection and be attacked; wounded combatants are patients and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination; medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants.

The MSF hospital has been substantially destroyed and is no longer operational.

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