While still demanding an international investigation, Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, Friday released its own internal report of the Oct. 3 U.S. bombing of a hospital near Kunduz, Afghanistan, that killed 30 people including 13 staff members. The report, based on interviews with staff members, describes the lead-up to the attack, disputing suggestions that the facility was being used by the Taliban, and provides details of the organization’s frantic efforts to get the U.S. military to call off airstrikes.
MSF says it had reaffirmed already well-known coordinates of the Kunduz trauma center with the U.S. department of defense, U.S. army in Kabul, and Afghan officials, on Sept. 29. It had also placed MSF flags on the roof of the hospital. On Oct. 1, the organization says it received a query from a U.S. official as to whether any Taliban were “holed up” at the facility. This jibes with media reports that the U.S. military was gathering information on the hospital. Afghan officials have also tried to justify the attack by saying the facility was being used by the Taliban, something MSF has characterized as an “admission of a war crime.”
While it has confirmed that wounded Taliban fighters were being treated at the hospital, MSF says that there were no armed combatants in the facility or fighting taking place on hospital grounds in the days leading up to the attack. Even if there were active Taliban there, the functioning hospital wouldn’t lose its protection under international humanitarian law. So far, nearly every account that has emerged since the incident has made it seem more likely that the U.S. military knowingly bombed a functioning hospital.
The new report also includes the log of phone calls from MSF officials to contacts in Washington and Kabul trying to stop the strikes, starting at 2:19 on the morning of Oct. 3, about 20 minutes into the bombardment, and continuing until it ended at a little after 3 a.m. At 2:52, after sending out the message that at least one staffer was confirmed dead, MSF officials in Kabul received a text message reply from a military contact reading, “I’m sorry to hear that, I still do not know what happened.” Seven minutes later, the contact wrote “I’ll do my best, praying for you all.”
MSF has called for an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, but the U.S. and Afghan governments have not yet agreed to cooperate.