By Felipe Bueno
In the afternoon of October 3, a Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was hit during an airstike, claiming the lives of 22 and injuring over 30. The airstrike was carried out by the United States, and is currently being investigated by the United States, NATO, and Afghanistan.
Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of MSF, issued a statement, saying, “The U.S. attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz was the biggest loss of life for our organization in an airstrike. Tens of thousands of people in Kunduz can no longer receive medical care now when they need it most. Today we say: enough. Even war has rules.”
The attack occurred after the Taliban drove U.S. forces out of the city of Kunduz on September 28, after which the U.S. launched a counterstrike to remove rebel forces from the city.
MSF claims that they warned United States personnel of the exact coordinates of their medical complex. As Dr. Liu stated, doctors were forced to treat one another and were unable to save their co-workers, with perhaps the most devastating incident was that six people in the intensive care unit were burned alive in their beds. With the destruction of the MSF hospital, victims of the standoff in Kunduz will now be unable to receive medical care.
The Guardian reports that MSF is calling for an independent inquiry under the Geneva Conventions. Dr. Liu stated that because the Geneva Conventions were made to protect civilians caught in the midst of war (i.e., patients, medical workers and facilities), there are legal repercussions for what the MSF has claimed to be a war crime.
Steven Gordon, associate professor of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a war crimes prosecution expert, told CNN, “You cannot, under the laws of war, attack sites such as hospitals, schools, religious buildings,” but went on to say that “the hospital as a building can lose its immunity if it’s being used by the enemy for military attacks.”
Voice of America reports that U.S. President Barack Obama personally apologized to Dr. Liu through a phone call, and sent his condolences via phone to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The New York Times reports that this incident has called Obama’s declaration of an end to the war in Afghanistan further into question. From the onset, there was no clear definition of what constitutes the end of a war, and two months before President Obama’s announcement, the U.S. and Afghanistan signed a bilateral security deal.
The Afghan government has pointed to the deal as a sign of “progress,” according to the Los Angeles Times, compared to strained Western relations under President Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai.
However, stability in Afghanistan does not rely only on foreign relations. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Afghan passport office has seen thousands lining up in the past few months, indicating the desperation of Afghans to emigrate due to the unimproved economy and insecurity in the country, especially after the recent resurgence of the Taliban.
According to CNN, the Taliban takes advantage of Afghanistan’s weak economy by offering locals high compensation in exchange for joining their forces. The taking of Kunduz at the end of September was the Taliban’s largest gain in more than a decade, Newsweek reports.
Four days before the MSF hospital attack, President Ghani implored the public on television to trust the Afghan army, who had dealt “heavy casualties” on the Taliban. According to Deutsche Welle, the Taliban resurgence came after NATO scaled back its presence in favor of training the local armed forces.
Ghani’s critics include former President Hamid Karzai, who decries Ghani’s attempts to reestablish relations with Pakistan. Karzai also criticizes Ghani for allowing the president’s authority to be divided through the creation of an extra-constitutional position for Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s rival in the 2014 presidential election who now serves as Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Officer.