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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2585

Afghan hospital attack: U.S. absolves itself of war crimes

Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Global Report
Washington, D.C. 30 April (

The United States has unilaterally cleared itself of 'War Crimes' of its aerial gunship attack on a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 42 people October 3 last year saying it occurred because of human errors, process mistakes and equipment failures, and none of the aircrew or U.S. ground troops knew the target was a hospital.

"This was an extreme situation" complicated by combat fatigue among U.S. special operations forces, Gen. Joseph Votel told a Pentagon news conference on Friday. Sixteen military members have been disciplined for their roles in the tragedy, Votel said. None face criminal charges.

(The French) Doctors Without Borders, the international charity organization whose hospital was destroyed in the attack, said in a statement Friday, following the U.S. response, that it would like to see an "independent and impartial" investigation. It said the punishments announced by the U.S. military are inadequate and "out of proportion" to the deaths, injuries and destruction caused by the mistaken attack.

"The lack of meaningful accountability sends a worrying signal to warring parties, and is unlikely to act as a deterrent against future violations of the rules of war," the organization said.

Votel said investigators concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict, but that those failures did not amount to a war crime, he said.

"The label 'war crimes' is typically reserved for intentional acts — intentional targeting (of) civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects or locations," Votel said. "Again, the investigation found that the incident resulted from a combination of unintentional human errors, process errors and equipment failures, and that none of the personnel knew they were striking a hospital."

Despite the United States military was notified the exact location of the Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières-MSF) and repeatedly communicated to the US Command that the hospital was being bombed, the US, for another 30 minutes, continued bombing the hospital in Kunduz in Afghanistan, it was revealed days after the attack last year.

The French medical organization had repeatedly advised the U.S. military of the exact GPS coordinates of the hospital. It was reported that they did so on September 29, just five days before the strike. Beyond that, MSF personnel at the facility “frantically” called U.S. military officials during the strike to advise them that the hospital was being hit and to plead with them to stop, but the strikes continued in a “sustained” manner for 30 more minutes.

The Pentagon on Friday denies all these absolving itself of war crimes.

New York Times last October time reported the American commander in Afghanistan believed that United States troops probably did not follow their own rules in calling in the airstrike that decimated a Doctors Without Borders hospital when no American and Afghan troops were in extreme danger, according to officials with direct knowledge of the general’s thinking.

The Special Operations Forces most likely did not meet any of the criteria, the commander, Gen. John F. Campbell, has said in private discussions, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

All those were put in the back burner or ignored when the United States refused to admit its culpability of violating international humanitarian law (IHL) and shirked the accountability process.

According to a statement by the Human Rights Watch last October, "given the hospital's protected status and the large numbers of civilians and medical personnel in the facility, attacking the hospital would still likely have been an unlawfully disproportionate attack, causing greater harm to civilians and civilian structures than any immediate military gain.

"The laws of war require that even if military forces misuse a hospital to deploy able-bodied combatants or weapons, the attacking force must issue a warning to cease this misuse, setting a reasonable time limit for it to end, and attacking only after such a warning has gone unheeded," the group said in a statement.

The State Department spokesman Mark Toner reiterated on 7 October last year that It is "perfectly sound" to assume the U.S. would oppose a U.N. Security Council resolution asking for an investigation and insisted that an independent investigation was unnecessary because the Obama administration already has "three investigations underway", the leaders of the medical organization that was bombed by a U.S. warplane last weekend insisted that the U.S. cannot investigate itself, and demanded a formal independent, impartial investigation into whether the U.S. committed a war crime.

The U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Gen. Joseph Votel cleared the U.S. on Friday of any war crimes investigation by an international body (possibly UNHRC) keeping in line with what State Department spokesman Mark Toner declared on7 October last year.

US Indiscriminate Killings Of Civilians In AF/Pak Region

We account here some of the brutal killings of civilians in that region by the United States military forces.

(1) Bombing blows away innocent marriage party in January 2002:

The attack on Qalaye Niazi (in Afghanistan) was as sudden and devastating as the Pentagon intended. American special forces on the ground confirmed the target and three bombers, a B-52 and two B-1Bs, did the rest, zapping Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in their sleep as well as an ammunition dump.

The war on terrorism came no cleaner and Commander Matthew Klee, a spokesman at the US central command in Tampa, Florida, had reassuring news: "Follow-on reporting indicates that there was no collateral damage."

Some of the things his follow-on reporters missed: bloodied children's shoes and skirts, bloodied school books, the scalp of a woman with braided grey hair, butter toffees in red wrappers, wedding decorations.

The charred meat sticking to rubble in black lumps could have been Osama bin Laden's henchmen but survivors said it was the remains of farmers, their wives and children, and wedding guests.

They said more than 100 civilians died at this village in eastern Afghanistan.

About two dozen guests had crammed into the three occupied houses for a wedding, raising the number of occupants to more than 100, said the elder. The bombers came early in the morning.

Precision-guided bombs vaporized all five buildings and a second wave an hour later hit people digging in the rubble and, judging from hair and flesh on the edge of three 40ft holes some distance from the complex, those trying to flee.

One villager said 32 died. The United Nations said 52, including 10 women and 25 children. Mr Mohammad said at least 80. Other villagers said 92. Staff at the hospital in Gardez said 107.

(2) In mid-May 2002 at least 10 persons were killed and many others were wounded when a US war plane bombed a village in the eastern Afghan province of Khost... A wedding was in progress...”

A wedding was in progress in the village when people fired into the air in traditional celebration and US helicopters flying over the area could have mistaken it for hostile fire. An aircraft later bombed the area for several hours.

It quoted sources as saying that terrified residents had been confined to their homes by fear and had not been able to remove dead bodies and evacuate the injured to hospitals for some time after the attack.

(3) May 2004 : “Among the dead were 27 members of the extended Rakat family, their wedding guests and even the band of musicians hired to play at the ceremony, among them Hussein al-Ali from Ramadi, one of the most popular singers in western Iraq. Dr Alusi said 11 of the dead were women and 14 were children.” Guardian/UK reported.

The wedding feast was finished and the women had just led the young bride and groom away to their marriage tent for the night when Haleema Shihab heard the first sounds of the fighter jets screeching through the sky above.

It was 10.30pm in the remote village of Mukaradeeb by the Syrian border and the guests hurried back to their homes as the party ended. As sister-in-law of the groom, Mrs Shihab, 30, was to sleep with her husband and children in the house of the wedding party, the Rakat family villa. She was one of the few in the house who survived the night.

"The bombing started at 3am," she said from her bed in the emergency ward at Ramadi general hospital, 60 miles west of Baghdad. "We went out of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one," she said. She ran with her youngest child in her arms and her two young boys, Ali and Hamza, close behind. As she crossed the fields a shell exploded close to her, fracturing her legs and knocking her to the ground.

By the time the sun rose the following day over the Rakat family house, the raid had claimed 42 lives, according to Hamdi Noor al-Alusi, manager of the al-Qaim general hospital, the nearest to the village.

Among the dead were 27 members of the extended Rakat family, their wedding guests and even the band of musicians hired to play at the ceremony, among them Hussein al-Ali from Ramadi, one of the most popular singers in western Iraq.

Dr Alusi said 11 of the dead were women and 14 were children. "I want to know why the Americans targeted this small village," he said by telephone. "These people are my patients. I know each one of them. What has caused this disaster?"

(4) October 2006: “A bomb ripped through a wedding convoy in Baghdad,
killing at least 15 people, four of them children, the interior ministry says.” A BBC report.

“The two grainy videos, apparently taken by cell phones, showed bodies lying side-by-side on the mosque floor, covered by floral-patterned blankets and black-and-white checkered shawls. One young boy lay curled in a fatal position; others looked as though they were asleep. One child had half its head blown off.” AP reported

The bodies of at least 10 children and many more adults covered in blankets and white shrouds appear in videos obtained by The Associated Press, lending weight to Afghan and U.N. allegations that US-led raid last month killed more civilians than the US reported.

The sounds of wailing women mixed with the voices of men shouting inside a white-walled mosque in the western village of Azizabad, where an Afghan government commission and U.N. report said some 90 civilians _ including 60 children and 15 women _ were killed.

(5) “The Wedding Crashers” by Tom Engelhardt, July 13, 2008

That was early May of this year. Less than two months later, halfway across the world, another tribal affair was underway. The age of the bride involved is unknown to us, as is her name. No reporters were clamoring to get to her section of the mountainous backcountry of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. We know almost nothing about her circumstances, except that she was on her way to a nearby village, evidently early in the morning, among a party 70-90 strong, mostly women, "escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates."

It was then that the American plane (or planes) arrived, ensuring that she would never say her vows. "They stopped in a narrow location for rest," said one witness about her house party, according to the BBC. "The plane came and bombed the area." The district governor, Haji Amishah Gul, told the British Times, "So far there are 27 people, including women and children, who have been buried. Another 10 have been wounded. The attack happened at 6.30AM. Just two of the dead are men, the rest are women and children. The bride is among the dead."

U.S. military spokespeople flatly denied the story. They claimed that Taliban insurgents had been "clearly identified" among the group. "[T]his may just be normal, typical militant propaganda," said 1st Lieutenant Nathan Perry. Despite accounts of the wounded, including women and children, being brought to a local hospital, Captain Christian Patterson, coalition media officer, insisted: "It was not a wedding party, there were no women or children present. We have no reports of civilian casualties." The members of an Afghan inquiry, appointed by President Hamid Karzai, later found that, in all, 47 civilians had died, including 39 women and children, and nine others were wounded.

(6) “The incident in Azizabad may represent the single deadliest media-verified attack on civilians by US forces since the invasion of 2001. Many bodies had to be dug out of the rubble. There may have been as many as sixty children among the dead.”

“An Anatomy of Collateral Damage” writes Tom Engelhardt, Asia Times, September 17, 2008
Here are the basic facts as best we know them. On the night of August 21, a memorial service was held in Azizabad, a village in the Shindand District of Afghanistan's Herat Province, for a tribal leader killed the previous year, who had been, villagers reported, anti-Taliban. Hundreds had attended, including "extended families from two tribes".

That night, a combined party of US Special Forces and Afghan army troops attacked the village. They claimed they were "ambushed" and came under "intense fire". What we know is that they called in repeated air strikes. According to several investigations and the on-the-spot reporting of New York Times journalist Carlotta Gall, at least 90 civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children, died that night. As many as 76 members of a single extended family were killed, along with its head, Reza Khan. His compound seems to have been specially targeted.

The incident in Azizabad may represent the single deadliest media-verified attack on civilians by US forces since the invasion of 2001. Numerous buildings were damaged. Many bodies, including those of children, had to be dug out of the rubble. There may have been as many as 60 children among the dead. The US military evidently attacked after being given false information by another tribal leader/businessman in the area with a grudge against Khan and his brother. As one tribal elder who helped bury the dead put it, "It is quite obvious, the Americans bombed the area due to wrong information. I am 100% confident that someone gave the information due to a tribal dispute. The Americans are foreigners and they do not understand. These people they killed were enemies of the Taliban."

- Asian Tribune –

Fires burn part of the hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by U.S. air strike
Injured doctors Without Borders staffs are seen after explosions near their hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015
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