Obama Sorry About Bombing Doctors Without Borders, Will Aim Better Next Time

Mistakes were made

In a development that regretful inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel never would have dreamed of, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize called the recipients of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize to apologize for a deadly airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on Oct. 3. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Obama had called the president of the organization, Dr. Joanne Liu, to express his condolences; Obama also called Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, to apologize and to compliment Afghan forces on their bravery.

Obama promised a transparent and thorough investigation of the facts “and if necessary will implement changes to make sure tragedies like this one are less likely in the future” [...]

“When we make a mistake, we are honest, own up to it and apologize,” Earnest said at his daily briefing. “The Department of Defense goes to great lengths to prevent civilian casualties, but in this case there was a mistake and it’s one that the United States owns up to.”

And sometimes stuff happens. Fog of war and all that. It's all good now.

The attack by an American AC-130 gunship lasted for over an hour, with five separate runs made by the plane. Doctors Without Borders had sent the hospital's GPS coordinates to the Afghan military, NATO forces, and even the Taliban. After the attack began, hospital officials phoned American officials in both Kabul and Washington to try to get them to stop attacking. So far, 12 hospital staff and 10 patients are confirmed dead, with 37 people injured; that total is likely to rise since the group, known by its French initials MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières), has not heard from an additional 24 staff in Kunduz.

“We are worried,” Guilhem Molinie, the group’s country representative in Afghanistan, said. “We haven’t stopped looking for them, and we’re not the only ones. Their families want to know where they are, too. We fear that some of them may be dead.”

Molinie said that the hospital "was hit with precision repeatedly while surrounding buildings were left untouched."

The Pentagon has offered varying accounts of how and why the attack happened, initially attributing the damage to the hospital to "collateral damage," then saying that the airstrike was called in by Afghan troops fighting the Taliban, and eventually saying that the strike was requested by U.S. Special Forces embedded with the Afghans. During a congressional hearing Monday, General John Campbell blamed the Taliban's takeover of Kunduz for everything:

"Unfortunately, the Taliban decided to remain in the city and fight from within, knowingly putting civilians at significant risk of harm," he said, adding that the insurgents had "purposely chosen a fight from within a heavily urbanized area."

MSF has said that Taliban fighters were not using the hospital for cover, and that there was no combat near the hospital before the attack, according to Mr. Molinie:

He described the Friday afternoon and evening before the attack as unusually quiet compared with previous days of fighting since the Taliban captured Kunduz on Sept. 28.

Ambulances were able to bring civilian victims to the hospital that day, including a family of five, hit in their car as they tried to flee the city. Three young children from that family were killed in the airstrike, Doctors Without Borders officials said.

The hospital was also treating wounded members of both Afghan government forces and the Taliban, in keeping with MSF's policy of complete neutrality and helping all in medical need. You'd think that maybe the American military would want to be extra careful about not hitting a place like that.

MSF's general director Christopher Stokes repeated a call for an independent, international investigation of the attack, which MSF has called a war crime; he also said that when President Obama called to apologize to Dr. Liu, she asked him to support an investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, which would require permission from the U.S. and Afghan governments. Stokes said that Obama replied he was confident investigations conducted by the U.S. military, NATO, and a joint Afghan-American military team were sufficient. For some reason, MSF doesn't seem to think that's a particularly trustworthy approach. Stokes said, “We believe it wouldn’t be realistic to ask one of the parties of the conflict to investigate themselves.”

The New York Times reports:

Doctors Without Borders has issued a statement acknowledging that Dr. Liu had “received” Mr. Obama’s apology, but it pointedly did not say she had accepted it.

It has to sting to be burned by one of the world's premiere humanitarian organizations. Can't say we blame them. Happily, once America gets itself into a nice new war in Syria, we'll almost certainly find a way to keep these awful mistakes from happening again. For now, at least we can enjoy the mordant thought of how President Trump would react to news that American forces had bombed a humanitarian organization's hospital. Maybe he'd express some regret, but also point out the attack's incredible accuracy -- nothing else in the neighborhood was hit. That's some quality attacking right there. And then Secretary of State Ben Carson could criticize the victims for just lying there and letting themselves get bombed.

[NYT / WaPo via Gawker / Vice]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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