Last week’s airstrike in the Afghan city of Kunduz has brought sharp criticism of the US and its continued involvement in Afghanistan. The airstrike resulted in the targeting of a hospital staffed by Doctors Without Borders.
Reports indicate the air support was requested by Afghan National Army troops who were in contact with Taliban elements in the area, resulting in the targeting of the hospital, killing 22 people.
The top US commander in Afghanistan has said that “an air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck,” General John Campbell said on Monday at a press conference at the Pentagon. It is more than likely that the Taliban were engaging ANA troops in a very close proximity to the hospital in an effort to create the circumstance that led to the airstrike. In other words provoking a response from the ANA. However this point has been lost in the discussions about the how and why. There were claims made that the Taliban were using the hospital as a fighting position, though this remains unconfirmed.
It must also be noted that Kunduz is a contested city which was the scene of fierce fighting last week as the Taliban mounted an offensive to capture the city. Kunduz is still the site of skirmishes between the ANA and the Taliban. It is reported that Taliban fighters have gone to ground in the city, utilizing the cover of the civilian population to mask their movements and attacks on ANA patrols. Claims that the hospital was deliberately targeted by US airpower are begin made, but this is highly unlikely as the Rules of Engagement for requesting close air support to assist ground forces is stringent, there is no doubt that a serious mistake was made. The ROE imposed on US and coalition forces over the course of the last 15 years are some of the most restrictive in the history of warfare.
Christopher Stokes, general director of MSF, said in a statement “their description of the attack keeps changing—from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government,”
Stokes went on to say that claims by Afghan officials that insurgents were using the hospital as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians were false, however that does not rule out the Taliban using it as a means to draw out ANA troops.
There is no doubt that this is a tragic accident and that blame lies somewhere at the top, however the first casualty of war is the truth and this incident is no exception, it may be some time before some semblance of the truth is know. The United States has stated that a full inquiry will be conducted as well as NATO investigation to establish the chain of events.