From A World To Win News Service

The U.S. airstrike on the Kunduz hospital: “Unacceptable”

October 19, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


burn in the MSF emergency trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after 
it was hit and partially destroyed by aerial attacks on October 3, 

Fires burn in the MSF emergency trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after it was hit and partially destroyed by U.S. aerial attacks, October 3. Photo: Médecins Sans Frontières

12 October 2015. A World to Win News Service. On 3 October, the U.S. military leading the occupation of Afghanistan carried out a prolonged series of air strikes on a hospital in Kunduz, the only facility in north eastern Afghanistan capable of treating the victims of the war. Ten hospital patients, including three children, were killed, burned in their beds, along with twelve medical staff working for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), which opened the hospital four years ago

Initially, the U.S. military tried to justify the attack as “collateral damage”, the by-product of a necessary action to “protect the force”. A military that has invaded and occupied another country cannot morally justify its actions as self-defence, and further, international law explicitly forbids targeting wounded people and medical facilities under any circumstances. U.S. President Barack Obama dismissed the attack as “a tragic incident,” as if the death of these people had been unavoidable.

“It is unacceptable that the bombing of a hospital and the killing of staff and patients can be dismissed as collateral damage or brushed aside as a mistake,” MSF president Joanne Liu said. As shock and indignation mounted, on 8 October Obama tried to close the incident by calling Dr Liu to offer his “personal apology” for what he claimed was an “accident”. The facts, as MSF has brought out, make it clear that this claim is not true. MSF has repeated its call for an international commission to investigate the attack, which it continues to call a war crime.

Dr Joanne Liu

Dr. Joanne Liu

Following is Dr Liu’s statement while visiting Kunduz Trauma Centre after the American attack.

For four years, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) trauma centre in Kunduz was the only facility of its kind in north eastern Afghanistan, offering essential medical and surgical care. On Saturday 3 October this came to an end when the hospital was deliberately bombed. Twelve MSF staff and 10 patients, including three children, were killed, and 37 people were injured, including 19 members of the MSF team. The attack was unacceptable.

The whole MSF Movement is in shock, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected. Nothing can excuse violence against patients, medical workers and health facilities. Under International Humanitarian Law hospitals in conflict zones are protected spaces. Until proven otherwise, the events of last Saturday amount to an inexcusable violation of this law. We are working on the presumption of a war crime.

In the last week, as fighting swept through the city, 400 patients were treated at the hospital. Since its opening in 2011, tens of thousands of wounded civilians and combatants from all sides of the conflict have been triaged and treated by MSF. On the night of the bombing, MSF staff working in the hospital heard what was later confirmed to be a U.S. army plane circle around multiple times, releasing its bombs on the same building within the hospital compound at each pass. The building targeted was the one housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward. Surrounding buildings in the compound were left largely untouched.

Despite MSF alerting both the Afghan and Coalition military leadership, the air strike continued for at least another 30 minutes. The hospital was well-known and the GPS coordinates had been regularly shared with [the U.S. and Nato] Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials, as recently as Tuesday 29 September.

This attack cannot be brushed aside as a mere mistake or an inevitable consequence of war. Statements from the Afghanistan government have claimed that Taliban forces were using the hospital to fire on Coalition forces. These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital, which amounts to an admission of a war crime.

This attack does not just touch MSF but it affects humanitarian work everywhere, and fundamentally undermines the core principles of humanitarian action. We need answers, not just for us but for all medical and humanitarian staff assisting victims of conflict, anywhere in the world. The preserve of health facilities as neutral, protected spaces depends on the outcome of a transparent, independent investigation.


A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.


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