On Oct., the United States committed another war crime in a long series of war crimes in Afghanistan when they bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, a strategic city in the northern part of the country that recently fell to the Taliban.
‘We saw our patients burning in their beds’
After the Taliban seizure of Kunduz in late September, the Doctors Without Borders hospital notified all parties to the intense fighting taking place in the city of their precise GPS coordinates on Sept. 29. Doctors Without Borders has frequently operated in conflict areas and has procedure in place to ensure safety, including notifying warring parties of their location.
This is why it came as a shock to hospital staff early in the morning of Oct. 3 when their facility was deliberately bombed, repeatedly, for an hour. Staff reported that the bombing continued for a half hour after they telephoned Kabul and Washington, D.C., with exact GPS coordinates to call off the strikes.
The bombing killed 12 staff, 10 patients, and injured 37 while destroying the only trauma hospital in northern Afghanistan. In one instance, two doctors had to immediately operate on their colleague on an office desk and lost him in the attempt. Nurses and techs worked to rescue patients while their coworkers died around them at their feet. The entire ICU caught fire and a nurse told reporters, “We saw our patients burning in their beds.”
Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, declared, “This was not just an attack on our hospital—it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated. These Conventions govern the rules of war and were established to protect civilians in conflict—including patients, medical workers and facilities.”
The group has decided to leave its operation in Kunduz since the bombing. Now thousands of Afghans in the northern part of the country are without a trauma center.
The group is calling for an International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission investigation of the incident. The Commission was established to investigate violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, but has not been used since its establishment in 1991.
U.S. military in PR crisis
In the aftermath, U.S. General John Campbell has told at least four separate stories about the war crime in an attempt to cover the truth in as many days.
First story: The U.S. mistakenly hit the hospital while firing at a nearby target that was threatening the lives of U.S. troops by firing on them. Then he said the U.S. intentionally struck the hospital after being requested to by an Afghan military unit being fired on. Then the U.S. intentionally struck the hospital after being requested to by a U.S. special forces unit that could not clearly identify the target. Finally they claimed to be unaware of the location of the hospital but the repeated accounts of the doctors that the military was notified of exact GPS coordinates have since pushed this claim out of the narrative.
Now, regardless of whether it was a U.S. or Afghan unit that requested the strike, the military claims they were justified in the attack due to the presence of Taliban fighters at the hospital.
This last argument is being touted by CNN commentators, Washington Post editorials, and others as proof that the hospital was no longer covered under Geneva Conventions because Taliban fighters allegedly fired from the hospital—an account flatly denied by the surviving doctors and staff.
This combination of confusion and arrogance from the U.S. military came just a day after Obama attempted to scold Putin for Russian airstrikes that destroyed a “moderate rebel” training camp operated by the CIA, telling him that civilian deaths are unacceptable. Of course no world leader with an ounce of common sense could take seriously the U.S. attempt to scold other nations about the sanctity of civilian life.
U.S. and Afghanistan—decades of war crimes
The history of war crimes in Afghanistan is older than the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, which is about the same age as the thousands of U.S. soldiers who are in Afghanistan, dying there in a bloody, prolonged retreat.
U.S. war crimes date back at least to the 1978 communist revolution in Afghanistan, lead mostly by students and carrying its greatest influence in Kabul, that threatened U.S. hegemony in the Middle East during a time when they were faced with the counterweight of the Soviet Union.
The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan elevated the role of women in society, launched literacy campaigns, supported workers’ unions, hoped to implement land reform, and more. These measures were stopped by a prolonged civil war led by a coalition of warlords, big landlords, and reactionary Imams in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ultimately financed by the U.S. and organized with the help of the CIA. This is the same CIA organizing the U.S.-financed mercenaries in Syria today in a very similar set of circumstances.
These warlords, who would eventually form the Taliban, launched massive attacks on schools and literacy teachers in the countryside with the complicity of the U.S., slaughtering civilians. These attacks escalated into street attacks in Kabul, terrorist bombings, assassinations, and more, all under the watch of the U.S. In fact, the U.S. was so proud of their covert involvement in Afghanistan they put Osama Bin Laden’s face in all the papers and called him a hero and a liberator.
Today, after 14 years of conflict, the U.S. government has slaughtered over 20 thousand Afghan civilians in a war of attrition against a people where 92 percent of fighting-age men have no idea what 9/11 is. The U.S. military has committed countless atrocities in Afghanistan that have drawn attention to the unjust and brutal character of the occupation.
From October to December of 2001 the U.S. bombed the Wazir Akbar Khan Women’s Hospital in Kabul, a hospital in Kandahar, a clinic in Daman district of Kandahar, a military hospital in Herat, two clinics in Uruzgun, a clinic in Paktia, Dand Red Cross clinic in Kandahar, and Mirwais Mina Hospital in Kandahar. During that period the U.S. also bombed dozens of mosques and at least two schools. These bombings alone resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties in only the first few months of war.
In 2002, two civilian prisoners at Bagram Prison were chained to the ceiling and beaten to death by at least seven soldiers. A second, secret prison was described in a 2010 report where prisoners are held in isolation under conditions of sleep deprivation and regularly tortured.
The U.S. has maintained a pattern of bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan, killing over 150 in three separate attacks in July 2002 as well as July and November of 2008.
A 2007 aerial bombing by NATO on a Helmand Province neighborhood left at least 50 civilians dead and received international condemnation.
In 2010, a group of 11 soldiers in Maiwand, Kandahar Province, who called themselves the “Kill Team” were caught murdering at least three civilians, taking photos with their bodies, making videos with severed Afghan civilians’ heads on a stick, and more. At least two of them, Jeremy Morlock and Andrew Holmes, were caught collecting human fingers and skull fragments from their victims. This especially heinous revelation came when Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone ran the photos taken by the depraved criminals of their exploits.
In 2012 the U.S. military came under fire for a viral video showing Marines urinating on Afghan corpses.
In spite of a Center for Naval Analyses study of aerial bombardment in Afghanistan that found drone strikes kill 10 times the number of civilians as manned aircraft, the U.S. continues to use hundreds of these strikes in the country, leading to the deaths of over 1,100 civilians to date. These strikes have also been used regularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
This list is only a small glimpse into the daily crimes of the U.S. occupation.
President Obama called Joanne Liu to apologize for the attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital. No Afghan has ever received such an apology.
Under a global economic and political system dominated by imperialist war aimed at securing profits and resources, the civilians in the colonized world are hardly counted as human at all. If the U.S. had bombed another Afghan hospital the world outside of Afghanistan would have no knowledge of it, made evident by the fact that the world is treating the bombing of this hospital as an anomaly.
End the Afghan occupation now
The U.S. bombed the Kunduz hospital a year after combat ended in Afghanistan and nine years before U.S. troops are scheduled to leave the country. So the war hasn’t ended regardless of the blatant doublespeak from Obama.
But what is the U.S. strategy to win? What is winning?
This is a question weighing heavily on every party involved from the rank-and-file troops losing life and limb to the scandal-prone military officers who have cycled in and out of leading the war.
General Stanley McChrystal was fired from his post after admitting in a Rolling Stone interview that the war was not popular, could not be won, and was nothing but a “bleeding ulcer.”
His successor, General David Patraeus, said: “You have to recognize that I don’t think this is a war you win. This is the kind of fight we’ll be in for the rest of our lives and our kids’ lives.”
The strategy in Afghanistan has been to attempt to make the U.S. appear strong as an imperial force despite being defeated by the poorest people on the planet. This is how destroying the hospital in Kunduz fits neatly in U.S. strategy. Their aim is to leave behind a crippled Afghan society. Their aim is to prevent Afghans gaining access to medical attention, to schools, to work, to anything resembling a normal civil life.
This strategy has been repeated by the U.S. each time it was defeated by a people’s war for independence from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The only way to end the war crimes is to end the U.S. occupation immediately and to end this prolonged collective punishment aimed at the Afghan people for their heroic defiance of Washington’s dictates.