Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Doctors With Enemies: Did Afghan Forces Target the M.S.F. Hospital?

The U.S. government’s report has ruled the attack an accident. But mounting evidence suggests that Afghans’ mistrust for the nonprofit medical group might have set the tragedy in motion.

By MATTHIEU AIKINSMAY 17, 2016, NYT

For the last hour, the American gunship had been circling high above the city, carefully observing its target with night-­vision sensors and waiting for clearance to strike. It was 2 in the morning on Oct. 3, 2015, and Kunduz City was enveloped in total darkness. The city’s power had gone out five days before — soon after the Taliban took over the provincial capital, in a humiliating blow to the American and Afghan governments — and it stayed off through the bitter fighting that followed, as commandos from both nations counterattacked. The aircraft’s target, a distinctively T-­shaped building set on an expansive lawn, was lit by generators, a beacon in the blacked-­out city. As they prepared to fire, the gunship’s crew members radioed to the ground force commander, a United States Army Special Forces major, for more information.

“Looking for confirmation on which building to strike — Confirm it is the large, T-­shaped building ... in the center of the compound.

"Affirm.”

An AC-130 circles its target like a ball swung from a string, raining down gunfire along the radius. At 2:08 a.m., the gunship began its assault, starting on the eastern end of the T-­shaped building and working methodically west. For half an hour, the AC-130 fired its 105-­millimeter howitzer, the largest airborne gun in existence, and its 40-­millimeter Bofors cannon, which shoots exploding incendiary rounds and is ideal for hunting people who flee targeted buildings by foot, often referred to by pilots as “squirters.” There were about 50 squirters at the site, the crew noted, a surprisingly high number. Through the infrared scope, the building glowed as it burned, while ghostly shapes that flitted from inside were gunned down.

“We started a fire, good effects.”

At roughly the same time, 150 miles south in Kabul, Guilhem Molinie, the head of the Afghan mission for Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials, M.S.F., was woken by a phone call: His hospital in Kunduz was burning. A few minutes later, he received a chilling update: It was being bombed from the air. That could mean only an American or Afghan attack. He began frantically calling the United States military, the United Nations, anyone who might be able to make it stop. At 2:19 a.m., he spoke to an officer at the Army Special Forces headquarters at Bagram Air Base, who said he would investigate. The airstrike would continue for an additional 18 minutes. The officer later texted Molinie: “I’ll do my best, praying for you all.”

(More here.)

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