U.S. strike on Afghan hospital likely not a mistake, says Doctors Without Borders

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders on Thursday said it was hard to believe a U.S. airstrike on an Afghan hospital last month was a mistake, as it had reports of fleeing people being shot from an aircraft.

United States has said the hospital was hit by accident

Christopher Stokes, the general director of the medical charity, Doctors Without Borders, stands near the charred remains of the organizations' hospital, after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in this Oct. 16, 2015 photo. (Najim Rahim/Associated Press)

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said on Thursday it was hard to believe a U.S. airstrike on an Afghan hospital last month was a mistake, as it had reports of fleeing people being shot from an aircraft.

At least 30 people were killed when the hospital in Kunduz was hit by the strike on Oct. 3 while Afghan government forces were battling to regain control of the northern city from Taliban forces who had seized it days earlier.

The United States has said the hospital was hit by accident and two separate investigations by the U.S. and NATO are underway but the circumstances of the incident, one of the worst of its kind during the 14-year conflict, are still unclear.

Doctors Without Borders general director Christopher Stokes told reporters the organization was still awaiting an explanation from the U.S. military.

"All the information that we've provided so far shows that a mistake is quite hard to understand and believe at this stage," he said while presenting an internal report on the incident.

The report said many staff described "seeing people being shot, most likely from the plane" as they tried to flee the main hospital building.

"From what we are seeing now, this action is illegal in the laws of war," Stokes said. "There are still many unanswered 
questions, including who took the final decision, who gave the targeting instructions for the hospital."

Several Afghan officials have suggested Taliban fighters were using the hospital as a base, a claim that Doctors Without Borders firmly rejects. It says the facility was under its control at all times and there were no armed fighters present either before or during the attack.

The hospital was treating wounded combatants from both sides as well as civilians, but the group says it always maintained a strict policy of neutrality between the two sides.

"Treating wounded combatants is not a crime," Stokes said.

An AC-130 gunship is reported to have repeatedly attacked the MSF hospital in Kunduz. (Master Sgt. Jack Braden/U.S. Air Force photo/Associated Presss)

Doctors Without Borders says the site's location had been clearly communicated to both Afghan forces and the Taliban and it was clearly 
identifiable as a hospital.

"That night, it was one of the few buildings with electrical power, it was fully lit up," Stokes said.

He also said that inspections of the area around the hospital since the Taliban withdrew from Kunduz last month did 
not reveal signs of heavy fighting.

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has revised the original casualty figure upwards and now says 30 people, including 13 staff members and three children were killed during repeated attacks by a powerful U.S. gunship.

The U.S. investigation is headed by a U.S. general and two brigadier generals.

A separate NATO casualty report into the incident, originally expected in October, has been delayed while the 
investigation continues, U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter announced last month.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?