More on the Doctors Without Borders attack in Kunduz

A reader kindly forwarded MSF’s own internal review of the incident. Of course, it’s no surprise they found that they certainly weren’t at fault.

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Here’s our tipster’s commentary that he sent along with the review.

A couple of things stand out for me.

– p5, Wednesday, mention of two higher ranking Taliban being admitted

– p5, Thursday, contact from DC about number of Taliban present on site

I’m going to draw that out a bit…

Firstly, these guys were high-value targets who were either already being tracked or on a list to be found (a guy in Washington doesn’t just call randomly!).

Secondly, the amount of interest in these guys (i.e. by their own people, hinted at by MSF report) created doubts that the hospital was compromised somehow – either by the number or frequency of Taliban coming and going, or by the thought that the high ranking guys were running operations from their beds (or both).

Two scenarios:

1 – general intel picture was seeing hospital as compromised somehow. Lots of little bits of info here and there. Made someone upstairs more inclined to approve air strike when request came. No major evidence, but enough to reach a tipping point for someone.

2 – Afghan forces wanted to get these two senior guys and ‘gamed’ the system to get the US to do an air strike. Perhaps they seeded/filtered the small intel pieces, or more likely they just took advantage of the mood at the time.

Both imply a rapidly changing view, some lax intel review/analysis, and a willingness to err to the side of ‘shoot first’. Strange that whatever the MSF guys said to the mystery DC man doesn’t seem to have had an impact on the judgment.

Still seems pretty clear to me that the strike was a mistake. Not enough to justify militarily and just plain dumb politically. However, once the release was given it was going to make a mess that couldn’t be stopped in time. Folks had better hope that the AC130 gun-cam footage of fleeing people being mowed down by mini-guns doesn’t get leaked like that Apache film from a few years back – that won’t be pretty for the PR guys to deal with.

I’ve worked with a couple of MSF guys. Say what you want about bleeding-heart civilian socialist French political views, but they run a tight ship because they are aware of the dangers.

Today the Daily Caller has a piece implying that MSF was, in fact, outside the protections of the Law of War.

Doctors without Borders confirm that their hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, did not display any internationally recognized markings showing it was a hospital when a U.S. gunship attacked the facility Oct. 3, killing 22 and injuring hundreds, according to the group’s interim report released Thursday.

The report may also open the group to accusations that it violated international law by forcibly removing civilian patients in favor of wounded Taliban soldiers.

That’s pretty weak sauce. Yes, they should have had the hospital marked. But if a combatant knows the facility is, in fact, a medical facility, a simple failure to mark it doesn’t justify attacking it. There’s still a burden on the combatant to refrain from attacking. As to the removal of patients, that’s awfully weak sauce, as the MSF review certainly gives the impression that the movement was to open beds for an influx of critically wounded, both Taliban, and government forces. Even if the entirety of the treatment offered by MSF was to Taliban forces, that would not be justification to target the facility, just as our own US Army field hospitals are (theoretically) protected by law.

Having said that, a close review of the MSF paper leaves a lot of questions. Our tipster has some theories. He may well be right. Or, there’s information we simply don’t have access to that swayed the US chain of command to authorize an attack on the facility.

For instance, while providing medical treatment to enemy fighters is fine, if the Taliban were in fact using the protected status of the facility as a sanctuary, that removes the legal protections from the hospital.  Here’s a tidbit, even if Taliban were not armed, but were using it as a sanctuary, and via the “one attendant per patient” were using it as a command and control center, that is a military operation, and a valid, legal target.

I’d also like to hear what the conversation between MSF and US representatives was like. Quite obviously, already the US had at a minimum, suspicions that MSF Kunduz was not protected. Further, exactly which Americans MSF dealt with would be enlightening.

We shall, eventually, see what our own military reviews come up with.  Some have contended that even if the technical violations of the Law of War are sufficient to legally justify an attack, the bad publicity resulting from it would still make it an error to attack.

But that’s not going to happen. The story is mostly gone from the press already, and if it was in fact an approved attack, that would reflect badly on Obama, and you know the press isn’t going there.

2 thoughts on “More on the Doctors Without Borders attack in Kunduz”

  1. I don’t really doubt that they we letting the enemy stay there. Not only do such groups not have protection from groups like the Taliban, but they also want to keep then as happy as they can so they can keep having access to people who need treatment. They know U.S. forces aren’t going to keep them from treating people in our areas so they feel safer making us look like the bad guys.

  2. From the Daily Caller link;

    “U.S. officials have given at least four different versions of the assault.”

    Perhaps US officials should wait for the results of the official US investigation before jumping to conclusions.

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