Afghan Government May Have Tricked U.S. Into Bombing Doctors Without Borders Because They Healed Taliban
“That hospital is in the service of the Taliban. I swear to God, if they make it a hundred times, we’ll destroy it a hundred times.”–Colonel Abdullah Gard, head of Kunduz police “quick-reaction” force at the time of the DWB shelling (allied with American Special Forces)
Matthieu Aikins at New York Times Magazine has some potentially incriminating details on the October shelling of the Kunduz DWB hospital by an American gunship, which prompted military discipline (though no criminal charges) amidst a highly-redacted review of the incident last month, a horrific miscommunication in a war long “ended” that the U.S. media seem intent on bumping for a story on Donald Trump.
“They were absolutely trying to do the right thing,” General Joseph Votel, U.S. Central Command, said of the non-combat Special Forces who inadvertently razed the hospital instead of the nearby Taliban headquarters they meant to target.
When Obama announced the end of the Afghan war in 2014, American forces remaining in the country were supposedly restricted to two “non-combat” missions: the NATO training initiative, Resolute Support, which advised the struggling Afghan forces in their continued battle with the Taliban; and Freedom’s Sentinel, a counter-terrorism effort that would exclusively target al Qaeda and ISIS. Both operations were headed by U.S. General John Campbell.
Josh Earnest, White House spinman, told reporters at the time: “The U.S. military will not be engaged in specific operations targeting members of the Taliban just because they’re members of the Taliban.”
87 Americans have been killed or wounded in the past 18 months of these nebulously-designated initiatives, many under the command of Major Michael Hutchinson, Ground Forces Commander.
Kunduz was captured by the Taliban on September 28, five days before the DWB hospital destruction. NYT reports this was the Taliban’s first regional capital acquisition in 14 years. On the 29th, Hutchinson commanded Special Forces including Green Berets to assist Afghan forces in repelling Taliban from the Kunduz airport: the same airport, apparently, that brought in supplies for the ill-fated DWB (M.S.F) hospital established there in 2011.
The lines between Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel appear to have muddied as many Afghan soldiers reportedly fled Kunduz and those who remained were completely dependent on the American reinforcements. The Americans were supposed to leave after the first 24 hours of combat, but instead of a 500-strong Afghan relief force, they met up with “a few Afghan police and army personnel,” who were adamant they would leave if the U.S. troops headed out.
“I really thought that the Afghans would see that it wasn’t that big of a deal and they would all come back in. We all agreed it had to happen fast, and the only people who were willing to go in, unfortunately, were people who did not know the city of Kunduz.”–Hutchinson’s report
American forces appear to have therefore sustained assault for days without adequate classification of their mission as it pertained to Resolute Support (support Afghans against Taliban) or Freedom’s Sentinel (self-defense against al-Qaeda). Hutchinson had submitted a battle plan for the days of siege, “Kunduz Clearing Patrol,” using Resolute Support rules of engagement; it was approved as a Freedom’s Sentinel mission.
NYT: [I]n the first four days of fighting in Kunduz, 13 airstrikes were conducted under Resolute Support and nine under Freedom’s Sentinel. Before conducting strikes, aircrews would sometimes radio to ask under which mission they were about to shoot.
How was essentially invading a Taliban-occupied city permissible under the two operations which restrained the American Special Forces at the time? New York Times points out that because the Americans were so surrounded in Kunduz, the air strikes they called in were conducted in “self-defense.” The Afghan troops were marked Persons with Designated Special Status, which “allows American forces to consider temporarily defending certain partnered Afghan troops as part of their own self-defense — essentially, self-defense of someone else.” (NYT)
The investigation of the Kunduz incident determined Hutchinson exceeded the authority of the self-defense rules when he launched “offensive pre-assault fires.”
What does this murky mission have to do with the DWB hospital? The (shaky) “self-defense” justification for the arguably offensive warfare the Americans were conducting meant an airstrike on a building could be approved on the ground, rather than run up the chain of command to General Campbell in Kabul.
The Afghan National Directorate of Security building, believed to be occupied by the Taliban (a faction even the most liberal use of the Special Forces’ objectives did not permit them to engage) is the target the AC-130 gunship believed it fired on when it actually annihilated the hospital, as we reported previously. Hutchinson radioed the gunship–circling in poor visibility, with at least one communication channel knocked out hours before in takeoff–to perform a “defensive scan,” which was justified if, as reported, the Afghan commandos (who the U.S. were supporting) were indeed about to storm the NDS building.
Hutchinson repeated for investigators the building description the Afghans gave him to relay to the gunship: “a long T-shaped building with a small offshoot. I can’t remember the word I would have used for it. It’s a walled-in compound with multiple outbuildings, and there was a gate facing to the north with an arch.”
NYT notes this description matches not the NDS building, but the now-leveled hospital.
Major General William Hickman, the head investigator of the Kunduz incident, maintained in the military report that Hutchinson’s intel from the the Afghans was “an ambiguous physical description” that “appeared to match the M.S.F. trauma center.” NYT contends the description is, rather, exactly that of the hospital.
NDS is “a trapezoidal compound with a south-facing gate and two main rectangular buildings facing each other across a cramped courtyard,” per the NYT.
Military investigators concluded: [Gen. Hutchinson’s] “version of events surrounding his decision to authorize the strike is internally inconsistent, implausible and contradicted by other available sources of credible information.”
Hutchinson received a reprimand and relief of Afghan command. NYT reports his new assignment is executive officer of his battalion. General Campbell has retired.
A DWB/MSF employee reported Taliban boss Janat Gul and deputy Abdul Salam (“shadow governor” of Taliban in Kunduz) visited the hospital September 29; DWB confirmed the latter was onsite, denying he entered the health care facility.
On July 1, 2015, a similar circumstance with a Taliban operative occurred at this hospital. Afghan forces wounded Abu Huzaifa, and believed he was taken to the DWB facility, which helped everyone regardless of affiliation until America wiped it off the map. The pursuing Afghan commandos–trained by U.S. forces through the NATO operation–entered the hospital violently, assaulting staff and firing their weapons. The hospital had to close off new admissions for five days to get back under control.
Huzaifa had disappeared. Although an American drone would destroy him seven weeks later (must have been on Obama’s “kill list”), the Afghan forces in Kunduz were irate. As Col. Gard, the NYT source, put it: “They hid him. The people who work [at the hospital] are traitors, all of them.”
Thanks to our source: