The Associated Press provided new evidence Monday that the U.S. military knew that the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was an active medical facility before they bombed it, bolstering the aid agency's charge that the attack—which killed at least 30 people—amounted to a war crime.
"A day before an American AC130 gunship attacked the hospital, a senior officer in the Green Beret unit wrote in a report that U.S. forces had discussed the hospital with the country director of the medical charity group, presumably in Kabul, according to two people who have seen the document," reports journalist Ken Dilanian.
In addition, MSF spokesperson Tim Shenk told the AP that in the days leading up to the bombing, a U.S. official asked the aid agency whether their Kunduz hospital "had a large group of Taliban fighters in it." According to Shenk, the group "replied that this was not the case. We also stated that we were very clear with both sides to the conflict about the need to respect medical structures."
"Taken together, the revelations add to the growing possibility that U.S. forces destroyed what they knew was a functioning hospital, which would be a violation of the international rules of war," notes Dilanian.
MSF executive director Jason Cone argued in a strongly-worded op-ed published Friday in the New York Times: "Assertions that armed Taliban combatants were on the grounds of our hospital have been discredited, both in this newspaper and elsewhere. Neither our staff members nor Kunduz residents reported seeing armed combatants or any fighting within the hospital compound before the airstrikes."
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"Even if there had been 'enemy' activity within the compound," Cone continued, "the warring parties would still have been obligated to uphold basic tenets of the laws of war, including respecting the protected status of hospitals, understanding the nature of targeted structures, and factoring in the potential toll on civilians of any intended attack."
What's more, MSF says that it informed coalition and Afghan officials of its GPS coordinates before and during the attack—to no avail.
Therefore, MSF has charged that the bombing of the hospital—a protected space under humanitarian law—amounts to a war crime and only an independent probe can be trusted to reveal the truth about the attack. While the U.S., NATO, and Afghan authorities have launched their own investigations, MSF argues "it is impossible to expect parties involved in the conflict to carry out independent and impartial investigations of military actions in which they are themselves implicated."
Earlier this month, the group launched a petition calling on the U.S. to consent to "an independent international investigation into the events of October 3 by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC), the only permanent body set up specifically to investigate violations of international humanitarian law." The missive has so far attracted nearly 325,000 signatures.
The AP reporting comes just days after MSF announced that the death toll from the attack "is still rising," with the number of known dead including 10 patients, 13 staff, and seven unrecognizable bodies.