Tue. Sep 17th, 2019

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It’s Not a War Crime If Your Hospital Is Also a Bunker

3 min read
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photo by SSG Tynes

Recently, US forces struck a hospital in operations to recover Kunduz Afghanistan from the Taliban. The hospital was engaged because it was reported Taliban forces were firing on Afghan Forces (initially reported as US Force) inside or in the vicinity of the hospital. The hospital was engaged by an AC 130 gunship. Depending on the model AC-130’s can be equipped with up to a 105mm howitzer but most have 40mm cannons as their heaviest armament. The guns are so accurate they can hit a tank with one round.

The hospital was run by the group Doctors without Borders or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). 22 people were killed (12 staff and ten patients) with 33 still missing. The hospital in Taliban controlled territory and whose site can’t be reached by independent investigators, closed. MSF has repeatedly stated they notified warring forces as to their location before and during the attack. They have vociferously called for an independent investigation and sensationally accused the US of a “war crime” ensuring widespread media coverage.

Let’s scratch the surface of the allegations and ponder how we got to the point that such sensational accusations get any traction to include at the highest levels of our government. It’s pretty common knowledge that everyone knows a hospital is a protected facility as defined by the Geneva Convention which largely establishes the international norms of waging war. A lesser known and it appears hardly known standard by the media and MSF, is that firing on enemy troops from or in close proximity of a hospital makes it a legal target.

Early media coverage reported Taliban troops firing on US and/or allied Afghan forces. The latest reports leave out that crucial tidbit while prominently reporting the MSF sensational claim that it can only be a “war crime” and how many casualties were caused. Afghan defense forces spokesman Sediq Sediqi stated 10-15 Taliban fighters were hiding on the grounds. MSF denies this but simultaneously cannot confirm it because no one can get to the hospital.

The totally slanted reporting is to be expected. The US has long waged its wars with stringent attempts to be in accordance with international norms. These efforts have only reached new heights with a lopsided ROE in Afghanistan which allows the enemy to use civilian and protected facilities to fire on US troops who have to get permission from higher commanders before engaging allowing the enemy to escape to do the same thing elsewhere. This insanity is now considered the norm by the public and the media that display an incredible lack of curiosity in exploring how these types of incidents start and play out.

The US in effect sends its troops into combat with both hands tied behind their backs. Further deteriorating the situation the US has directed the Justice Department to investigate the Kunduz incident superseding the military investigation. All of these developments and their predictable results are directly attributable to conducting lawfare instead of warfare. Military commanders will even become more timid in the execution of their duties when they realize they will be investigated by civil authorities with no understanding of combat conditions and the warped standards that have now become commonplace.

If it is discovered that Taliban forces used the hospital for protection or as reports have stated, a location from which to engage friendly forces there will be no discussion or international reaction to that behavior which is actually a war crime. Rest assured, in any case friendly forces will be held to the impossible standard of waging war with no civilian casualties even when the enemy hides behind them.

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