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US analysts knew bombed Afghan site was hospital

New details suggest hospital ‘intentionally targeted’ by US forces, says Doctors Without Borders

American special operations analysts knew a site in Afghanistan was a hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military airstrike and had been gathering intelligence on whether it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, according to an Associated Press report on Thursday.

It’s unclear whether the commanders who led the Oct. 3 attack — which killed at least 22 patients and hospital staffers — knew the site was a hospital or were aware of the allegations of possible enemy activity. The Pentagon initially said the attack was to protect U.S. troops engaged in a firefight but later admitted it was a mistake.

The analysts assembled a dossier that included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents describing the site. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons.

Pentagon officials have declined to comment on the analysts’ knowledge of the site. President Barack Obama has apologized for the attack.

Doctors Without Borders, which ran the hospital, acknowledged that wounded Taliban fighters were treated at the facility but insisted that no weapons were allowed in. Afghans who worked at the hospital said there was no firing from inside it at the time of the attack.

The airstrikes came as U.S. military advisers were helping Afghan forces take back the northern city of Kunduz from the Taliban, which had seized the city in the group’s first major victory since being ousted from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

Doctors Without Borders said U.S. jets made five strafing runs over an hour, directing heavy fire on the main hospital building, which contained the emergency room and intensive care unit. Surrounding buildings were not struck, they said.

Typically, pilots flying air support missions would have maps showing protected sites like hospitals and mosques. If commanders determined that the enemy was operating from a protected site, they would follow procedures designed to minimize civilian casualties — not destroy the site.

Doctors Without Borders has condemned the bombing as a war crime. It said that the U.S. strike killed 12 hospital staffers and 10 patients and that many were still missing, so the death toll could rise.

These new details suggest “that the hospital was intentionally targeted, killing at least 22 patients and MSF staff,” said Meinie Nicolai, the president of the operational directorate of Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French initials, MSF.

“This would amount to a premeditated massacre … Reports like this underscore how critical it is for the Obama administration to immediately give consent to an independent and impartial investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to find out how and why U.S. forces attacked our hospital,” she added.

The Associated Press

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