On the first weekend of October, U.S. airforces dropped bombs on a hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. The hospital has been operated by the aid organization Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) since its opening in 2011, with more than a dozen doctors and surgeons on its staff, and dozens of international aid workers there as well.
Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, later told a U.S. Senate panel that the hospital had been “mistakenly struck,” according to the New York Times. Other media outlets have speculated that U.S. officials purposely bombed the Afghan hospital because they believed it was housing wanted Taliban terrorists, but the U.S. has not confirmed this rumor.
DWB stated that the organization regularly informs U.S. armed forces of its hospital locations and coordinates; the most recent update was on Sept. 29, just a few days before the bombing. DWB also stated that it contacted U.S. officials after the first bombs were dropped to inform the military of its mistake — and yet the bombing continued for 30 more minutes.
A dozen staff members and 10 patients were killed, reported The Intercept, and at least 37 additional people were injured.
Doctors Without Borders recently stated that the U.S. military’s actions were nothing short of war crime, especially because DWB does not accept funding from any government and is therefore completely independent from Afghan and Taliban control.
According to the BBC, DWB has turned to the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC), which was created in 1991 under the Geneva Conventions, and has requested an investigation into the bombing.
The U.S. government often emphasizes overseas aid and protection measures, such as the Defense Base Act, which was enacted in 1941 to protect Americans who are working overseas for U.S. defense contractors. It has been amended several times since then to include workers employed by several different military and aid programs, which is essential for protecting employees who aren’t soldiers but are still working in war zones.
For organizations like Doctors Without Borders, refusing funds from any government is a Catch-22; although these organizations don’t operate under the thumb of any government, they don’t always receive the same amount of protection as other organizations that do accept funding from certain countries.
The latest bombing in Kunduz only emphasizes that predicament.
To make things worse, the New York Times just reported that DWB is planning to close its Kunduz hospital because of the U.S. airstrike. The hospital has been one of the few medical facilities in Kunduz allowed to operate despite the Taliban’s oppressive rule; when the hospital closes, the closest facility with an intensive care unit will be a two-hour drive away.