Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Surgeons work inside a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan. (Photo: Handout/Reuters)

Bombing Hospitals All in a Day's Work

Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz destroyed by U.S. bombing

Phyllis Bennis

The destruction of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, with 22 dead so far, including doctors, other staff and patients, capped a week that also saw the bombing of​ another hospital in Afghanistan, plus the U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian bombing of a wedding party in Yemen set up in tents far out in the desert, away from anything remotely military. (What IS it about wedding parties that U.S. and allied bombers keep hitting them?).

The Pentagon relied on its language of “collateral damage,” trying once again to distance itself from any responsibility for this most recent atrocity in Afghanistan. But there is no distance. This is the direct and inevitable result of an air war waged by U.S. pilots flying U.S. planes dropping U.S. bombs on an impoverished and war-devastated country still immersed in the war that began 14 years ago this week. Since that time the U.S. has spent $65 billion to train and equip a military and police force accountable to U.S. goals and the U.S.-installed government. But it hasn’t worked.

Kunduz is a large city in northern Afghanistan, and while residents and others had noted moves by the Taliban to surround the city in recent months, it wasn’t until last week’s seizure of the town by Taliban forces that U.S.-backed officials in Kabul took any notice. The corruption-rife and widely discredited Afghan government then sent troops from its U.S.-trained army to try to retake the city, even announcing two days later that the Taliban had been routed. But residents and other observers reported the Taliban remained largely in control, and the U.S. sent warplanes on bombing raids, ostensibly to bolster its junior partners.

Eye (and ear) witnesses from the international humanitarian organization reported that despite having provided precise GPS coordinates to U.S. and Afghan military authorities to prevent exactly this kind of attack, the hospital was "repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched." The Pentagon refused to take responsibility, saying only that its airstrikes “may have resulted in collateral damage.” President Obama expressed condolences to the victims but refused to apologize for the strike.

According to Heman Nagarathnam, MSF Head of Programs in northern Afghanistan, "the bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round. There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building's two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds." Those who burned to death included three children and the patients in the hospital’s intensive care ward.

The attack on the hospital, with its horrific civilian casualties, is the inevitable result of an air war against heavily populated cities. But more broadly, it is one more example of the consequences of a strategy of trying to defeat terrorism by war. In Afghanistan as in the escalating wars in Syria and Iraq, the claim we so often hear from U.S. officials is true: “there is no military solution.” But the actions of the US government – military action being almost all we see – belie that claim.

In Syria, there may be a small bit of hope for negotiations – despite the harsh rhetoric, both Obama and Putin made subtle but significant concessions in their UN speeches, and it may be that the current escalations on both sides are prelude to some kind of negotiations. (President Obama reiterated what Kerry outlined more specifically, that Assad’s ouster is not a precondition or something that has to happen immediately. President Putin, even while stating support for Assad, stated clearly that he believes what stands against terrorism in Syria and so what must be protected is the Syrian government and “its” army – not “his” army, thus leaving open a shift in Russian support away from Assad alone to support for the Syrian state and military, assuming Moscow can count on continuing protection of its various interests in and around Syria.)

But the fighting continues. In Syria, the U.S. and Russia are both conducting airstrikes ostensibly against ISIS, but the civilian suffering significant casualties. Despite its claims of backing only “moderate” opposition forces, the Pentagon just admitted that one of the ephemeral U.S.-armed coalitions of just such “moderate” rebel fighters is actually working to arm the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, “Unfortunately, we learned late today that the NSF (New Syrian Forces) unit now says it did in fact provide six pickup trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected Al-Nusra Front (group),” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

It remains a very grim time – the situation in Kunduz remains highly unstable, and with the destruction of the MSF hospital, continued fighting now means injured civilians have lost the most important provider of emergency medical care available. More Afghan civilians will die. In Syria, IF the possibilities of negotiations are rising, there's likely to be a greater military escalation before and even during such talks, meaning more Syrian civilians will almost certainly be killed.

The wars are far from over.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and serves on the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace. Her most recent book is the 7th updated edition of "Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer" (2018). Her other books include: "Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer" (2008) and "Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy US Power" (2005).

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'She's Just Awful': Critics Swing After Sinema Ditches Dems Just Days After Warnock Win

"Apparently 'independent' is the new way to say 'corporate lobbyist,'" said one critic.

Jon Queally ·


Advocates Applaud as FTC Sues to Stop Microsoft-Activision Mega-Merger

Biden's FTC, said one consumer campaigner, "is showing, once again, that it is serious about enforcing the law, reversing corporate concentration, and taking on the tough cases."

Brett Wilkins ·


Press Freedom Champions Renew Call for DOJ to Drop Charges Against Assange

"It is time for the Biden administration to break from the Trump administration's decision to indict Assange—a move that was hostile to the media and democracy itself."

Jessica Corbett ·


Oral Arguments Boost Fears of SCOTUS Buying Theory That Would 'Sow Elections Chaos'

"This reckless case out of North Carolina could explode the unifying understanding that power ultimately rests with the people of this country," one campaigner said of Moore v. Harper.

Jessica Corbett ·


War Industry 'Celebrating Christmas Early' as House Passes $858 Billion NDAA

"There is no justification to throw... $858 billion at the Pentagon when we're told we can't afford child tax credit expansion, universal paid leave, or other basic human necessities," said the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. "End of story."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo