US troops knew they were bombing Afghan hospital

Updated: 17 October, 2015 08:25 IST | Agencies |

A report alleges that US special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on the hospital days before it was destroyed, as they believed it was used by a Pakistani operative for Taliban

Washington: Days before the October 3 US air attack on a hospital in Afghanistan, American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on the facility — which they knew was a protected medical site — because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, according to a published report.

Charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after the US airstrike on October 3. Pic/AP
Charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after the US airstrike on October 3. Pic/AP

Initial clarification
It’s unclear whether commanders, who unleashed the AC-130 gunship on Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, were aware that the site was a hospital or knew about the allegations of possible enemy activity. In the attack, at least 22 patients, including hospital staff were killed and many were severely injured. The Pentagon initially said the attack was to protect the US troops engaged in a firefight and has since said it was a mistake. Even US President Barack Obama had rendered a public apology for the same.

Hospital circled on map
The special operations analysts had 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 familiar with the material. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons.

Blaming Pak
After the attack — which came amidst a battle to retake the northern Afghan city of Kunduz from the Taliban — some US analysts assessed that the strike had been justified, the former officer says. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.

No approval
No evidence has surfaced publicly to support those conclusions about the Pakistani's connections or his demise. The former intelligence official was not authorised to comment publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The top US officer in Afghanistan, Gen John Campbell, has said the strike was a mistake, but he has not explained exactly how it happened or who granted final approval. He also said he was ordering all personnel in Afghanistan to be retrained on the rules governing the circumstances under which strikes are acceptable.

The new details about the military’s suspicions that the hospital was being misused complicate an already murky picture and add to the unanswered questions about one of the worst civilian casualty incidents of the Afghan war. They also raise the possibility of a breakdown in intelligence sharing and communication across the military chain of command.

The number of people who died in the attack

The ground-attack aircraft, which can carry an array of anti-ground oriented weapons, used for the attack

Pak dismisses allegations

Karachi: Pakistan has rejected US claims that a Pakistani operative was in the Kunduz hospital that was hit by a US airstrike. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said that allegations implicating Pakistan were baseless.

He said, “Pakistan’s non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs was one of its key pillars of Afghan policy. We arefully committed towards preventing our territory from being used against any country, including Afghanistan.”

First Published: 17 October, 2015 08:23 IST

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