It’s not a war crime if your hospital is also a bunker

Posted on: October 13th, 2015 by Will Rodriguez 30 Comments
Army Photo by SSG Scott 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 130U gunship.  This version is equipped with a 105mm howitzer, 40mm cannons and multi-barrel 25mm cannons.  The 105mm is so accurate it can hit a vehicle with one round due in a great part to its sensitive sensors.  Only a decade ago the video from the sensors was rated classified.

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.  It’s already happening. The Washington Post reported the AC130’s sensor operators saw Taliban firing from the hospital’s porticos.  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.

 

(This essay was initially published on SpotterUp.com.  It has been updated specifying an AC130U gunship and the report on what the sensor operators reportedly saw.)

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • Luddite4Change

    If the sensor operator saw it, its on video and DOD knows what was on it. 

    While I don’t like the idea of the Justice Department conducting an investigation, it is entirely possible that this course of action was decided upon to give even higher level cover that the actions taken were IAW the ROE and Law of Land Warfare.  Again, DOD already knows what happened if there was a tape.

  • Luddite4Change 
    My point remains even if the video exists.  It in fact confirms it.  We have unrealistic self inflicted norms on how to wage war.  Heck, an analysis of what happened in the Gangal valley prove it.  No one was held responsible for holding back assistance above the Battalion level even though BDE was responsible for communicating ROE limits and specifically weighed in when it came to air support.  The difference is there are a lot more field grades at BDE that could point to higher vs. the fall guys, Oh I mean company grade officers at BN that were appropriately punished.

    Look back at history and consider when the Justice Department investigated the military during a conflict and who what type of administrations directed the Justice Department to investigate the military.

    While at it, consider who has the lead in interrogating prisoners captured in the conflict and who put them in the lead.
    You’ll find the administration is batting 1000%

  • Txazz

    Luddite4Change
    They have also said they would pay for repairs on the hospital 
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/pentagon-to-compensate-victims-of-hospital-airstrike-1444522006

  • Txazz

    majrod Luddite4Change The frustration factor is extremely high.  I would like to see our Air Force exonerated on this one.

  • LPD256

    As it is with cops in Baltimore, hesitation will happen when you get thrown under the bus. Now it’s the military. Seems like lately only the good guys get investigated by the DOJ.

  • Recon6

    majrod Luddite4Change Rec’d +1 …6

  • Txazz Luddite4Change 
    I don’t think it’s “wrong” to rebuild the hospital (even if it was treating Taliban).  Ican also see compensation of the staff but I draw a very wide line in compensating all the patients.   Military age adult males need a colonoscopy before compensating their families.  We should not be the enemy’s SGLI.

  • Camo_Steve

    If only someone high up in the military (*Cough* Gen. Campbell) would publically defend the people under his command instead  giving the impression that his fellow service members did something wrong, and calling it a “mistake”.

    Oh wait, that would mean he would have to demonstrate the Army values.

    Loyalty:  “A loyal Soldier is one who supports the leadership and stands up for fellow Soldiers”
    Duty:  “You fulfill your obligations as a part of your unit every time you resist the temptation to take “shortcuts””.
    Respect:  “Respect is trusting that all people have done their jobs and fulfilled their duty”
    Selfless Service:  “Put the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own. ”
    Honor:  “Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do.”
    Integrity:  “Do what’s right, legally and morally.”
    Personal Courage:  “Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral).” “…. especially if taking those actions is not popular with others.”

    http://www.army.mil/values/index.html

  • YankeePapa

    .
    …It’s “win-win” for the terrs.  As in Gaza… put your rocket launchers hard up against schools, apartment buildings, mosques, and hospitals.  If the opposition is afraid to fire, you’ve won… and if they do… well, you have a “photo-op…”  And much of the MSM will howl without bothering to mention anybody using the facility as a fire base.  
    .
    …As I have said elsewhere… the game is rigged… All that you can do is kick over the table and draw…
    .
    -Yankee Papa-

  • LawyerHandle

    Is the damage shown in this Foreign Policy article consistent w/ what you’d expect from an AC-130U attack?
    http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/13/inside-msf-hospital-kunduz-afghanistan-taliban-us-attack/

  • LawyerHandle

    AP’s latest claim:
    WASHINGTON (AP) — US special ops knew Afghan site was hospital; unclear if information shared with commanders.
    https://twitter.com/kendilanianap/status/654712692800811009

  • Txazz

    Yes, here’s more on that.
    US Analysts Knew Afghan Site Was Hospital
    Oct 15

    American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an
    Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack
    because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to
    coordinate http://abcnews.go.com/topics/news/world/taliban-afghanistan.htm activity, The Associated Press has learned.
    It’s unclear whether commanders who unleashed the AC-130 gunship on the
    hospital — killing at least 22 patients and hospital staff — were aware
    that the site was a hospital or knew about the allegations of possible
    enemy activity. http://abcnews.go.com/topics/news/us/the-pentagon.htm initially said the attack was to protect U.S. troops engaged in a firefight and has since said it was a mistake.
    Read the rest:

    http://tinyurl.com/ozdej89

  • LawyerHandle 
    You really need before and after photos to do a good BDA or assessment on what did the damage.
    Walls still existing are consistent with a lighter artillery strike of short duration.  The AC130U has a 105mm and 40mm cannons.  These will tear up a building but not flatten it as would a 250lb or greater bomb.  

    There was obviously an intense fire that caused the majority of damage pictured.  Beds still in place support that.  Large explosions would tear these up or at least move them and fire explains the blackened walls.  Blast tends to knock off the top layers of paint/plaster/concrete (on both sides of a wall) vs. blackening them.  
    From the Washington Post story I linked, “the AC-130U’s 40mm round has a high explosive incendiary munition that
    is lined with zirconium. The rounds are known for causing fires.”  Keep in mind any Oxygen tanks would increase the intensity of the damage and fire.

    Why do you ask?  Do you think something else may have caused the damage?

  • Txazz LawyerHandle 
    Whether the military knew it was a hospital or not is really irrelevant.  If the enemy is using a hospital, mosque or day care center in a manner that gives it a significant advantage it is no longer a “protected site”.  I know civilians (and the lawyers advising our commanders) have a tough time understanding that.  It comes from that damn “lawfare” approach to war which is more concerned with capturing and persecuting the enemy than killing him.
    Of course everyone from the media to the administration will gloss over those realities just like the reality you can just about summarily shoot a captured combatant that isn’t clearly marked as the enemy (the commander has to have legal authority over the area the combat is occurring in).

    I predict there will be a lot more focus on whether and who knew the building was a hospital than what has been reported from the commander requesting air support who is reported “According to the former intelligence officer, the commander on the
    ground has told superiors he was in the worst firefight of his career
    while taking fire from the building, which he said he did not know was a
    hospital. He requested the gunship strike.” http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/apnewsbreak-us-spec-ops-knew-afghan-site-hospital-34500041

    Next we’ll have dilettantes asking why the troops didn’t withdraw demonstrating their complete lack of knowledge on what it takes to be successful in the offense.  Simply put, you don’t take back a city occupied by the enemy by withdrawing.

  • YankeePapa

    majrod Txazz LawyerHandle ,
    .
    “… with capturing and persecuting the enemy…”
    .
    …Uh… I’m sure that you meant to say “prosecuting…”  (Or maybe you didn’t… get tired of dealing with bad guys…)
    .
    …Lawyers in air conditioned offices many miles (or even continents) away get to play Monday morning quarterback.  This sort of thing at times results in American unit taking casualties and somebody won’t authorize air or artillery…
    .
    …Worse, you have politicos (in and out of uniform) who will gladly toss a commander to the wolves if it furthers their own personal agenda.  Haven’t heard of them taking bribes from Mexican drug cartels at least… (yet…), but they are certainly corrupt. 
    .
    -Yankee Papa-

  • YankeePapa majrod Txazz LawyerHandle 
    I said persecuting but meant prosecuting.  Spellcheck or haste error.  Thanks for clearing that up.

  • YankeePapa

    majrod YankeePapa Txazz LawyerHandle ,
    .
    …Until the 1990s I lived without Spellcheck.  I was far better at spelling than the average person…
    .
    …Now I am nearly helpless without it.  Of course the wrong word typed… so long as correctly spelled… is blindly left in place by the program.  
    .
    …I type up something in excess of 5000 words ( I *am* something of a long-winded old bastard…) and I nearly go blind reading and re-reading to avoid that exact problem.  
    .
    …I know that it wasn’t a “Freudian slip”… (not that I would tell anybody if it turned out to be one…)
    .                     :#)
    .
    -YP-

  • YankeePapa

    .
    …Ok boys and girls.  Moving right along with the train (that will run on time) of thought that says that the U.S. military is made up of war criminals… (as opposed to the opposition… known to be saintly humanitarians) the American military is being accused of trying to hide or destroy evidence by taking control of the “crime scene…”
    .
    http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/us-tank-enters-ruined-afghan-hospital-putting-war-crime-evidence-at-risk/ar-AAfuKfx
    .
    -YP-

  • LawyerHandle

    I just thought it was curious that the site was supposedly too dangerous for even Afghan officials to enter yet a FP reporter can just waltz in and take all the photos they want. I know reporters sometimes have sources on all sides of a conflict and can get extraordinary access but it still seems strange. It was also the large amount of what appeared to be very intense heat-fire damage (as you mentioned) but I guess that could be ignited by incendiary rounds. Finally in one of the photos there was an almost perfect round hole in the wall about the size of a manhole cover- is that damage consistent w/ the type of weapons fired from the AC-130u?

  • LawyerHandle

    All this “war crime” talk from MFS is pretty rich- IIRC, these same “war criminals” are the ones that risk their lives (and at least one lost his) trying to rescue these do-gooders every time they get snatched up as hostages.

  • LawyerHandle

    And then there is also the issue of whether any damage is the result of weapons stored in and around the facility.

  • LawyerHandle 
    I’m not surprised that media were able to get pictures.  It’s easier to get a freelance journalist in than secure a whole facility to bring in investigators.  The third paragraph describes what he had to through to get in and the next to last sentence of the piece describes the current situation, “The fighting sounded as though it might be emanating from the street
    running along the compound’s eastern boundary or maybe a block beyond
    that.”
    Interestingly just prior to that the journalist describes an area near the guardhouse with a lot of holes from small arms fire coming from the “inside” of the building.  It’s kind of buried but who caused that?  Were the doctors armed and shooting out of the guardhouse?  I doubt it…
    Anyway it doesn’t surprise me that a journalist got in and took photos before allied authorities.  Remember Benghazi?

    Weapons/munitions could have been stored there but I doubt that they were there in any quantity. The enemy hadn’t held Kunduz that long.  A significant size ammo dump would do more damage with secondary explosions.
    I saw that hole.  A 105mm with a point detonating fuze could do that kind of damage but it would look crater shaped from the entry side which you can’t tell from the picture.  If it was a delayed fuze the hole would be the size of a big coffee can.

  • YankeePapa

    .
    …When the Iran hostage rescue was about to go down, the White House got a briefing.  One of Carter’s staffers was horrified by the intention of Delta Force to shoot each goon (in the dark) twice… right between the running lights.  
    .
    “Couldn’t you just shoot the ‘students’ (sic) in the arm?”  Of course one live terr has the potential to take the whole mission with him…  To Carter’s credit, we dismissed his staffer’s question with a wave of his hand. 
    .
    …People like this get high up in a Presidential administration?  Well, yes… of course they do… and as the years have passed we see ever increasing numbers of them… not all in civilian clothes. 
    .
    …In Africa I took my girlfriend and her two little boys to a drive-in theater in late 1977.  First run of Star Wars.  All took it in stride when Han Solo… faced with the weapon of a bounty hunter (working for a gangster) who just announced his intention to kill Solo in cold blood… gets so caught up in his own smugness that Solo was able to slowly draw under the table and then fire a second before “Greedo” could murder him.
    .
    …Years later, the director altered the scene showing that Greedo fired first… somehow missing by a mile… Any cheeseburger could tell that the scene had been re-edited… So a later attempt was made… showing both firing at the same time… with Greedo still unable to hit anything smaller than a deployed bed-sheet… 
    .
    …”Oh no… a hospital!”  If a commander said… “There is a hospital over there… with only doctors and patients… destroy it immediately!”  then there might be a problem.  But let terrs operate from it… even fire from it… and it is still a “protected site?”   The doctors who cried “war crime…”, were any of them aware that their facility had been “compromised…?”   If not, why not?  If so, why don’t they say so?

    .
    …The double standard not only applied to Israel… but to U.S. forces… in some cases by U.S. citizens… and before it is all over… perhaps by politicos with stars on their shoulders…  
    .
    …Any thing that American forces do in good faith is not only to be attacked by enemies who would kill millions of non-combatants if they could… but it seems… will be routinely believed by some of our own people.  Why did the President apologize?  If you have done something wrong you apologize… if you did the right thing you express regret for any collateral damage.
    .
    http://www.spikeybits.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/han.jpg
    .
    -Yankee Papa-

  • LawyerHandle

    Barbara Starr on CNN just filed a report saying that her DOD sources tell her that hospitals, mosques & schools are 100% off limits no matter what even if taliban fighters were inside.

  • LawyerHandle
  • virtute77

    Just so you guys know: there are lots of this who knew this as soon as we heard this news.  We always know, and we always say so.  We know how hard it is for you; we’re doing all we can on this end.

  • LawyerHandle

    Foreign Policy has another article out w/ witnesses-survivor interviews from the hospital.
    http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/17/msf-hospital-survivors-recount-night-of-horror-kunduz-afghanistan-us-airstrike/

  • LawyerHandle 
    Thanks for sharing.  A highly questionable piece from a news organization that has a very specific view of the world.  That said, one can learn something from even biasd or incomplete reporting. 
    I wonder if the Mullah or the dead brother (who was likely a military aged male) had any connections to the Taliban? 

    The author makes a point of stating the AC130 crew asked if the strike was legal.  Then the media never answers what the response was.

    The article says some legal scholars categorize the strike as a “war crime”.  Then doesn’t explain their rationale.  I’m sure some legal scholars would state the opposite.  I’m no legal scholar but have had more than just a cursory introduction to the laws of war over 20+ years.

    The article cites the allied report that firing came from the hospital.  It was very effective fire from some reports and from the authors previous report he himself identified bullet holes  coming out from the inside of the guardhouse.  Anyway, the story then cites an evolving story (not uncommon in combat) that says instead of US forces being engaged it was Afghan forces (which never states the American advisors weren’t with those forces).  Another development is the US admission made a mistake hitting a hospital (let’s ignore that the US never explains why it was a mistake besides being a PC response to striking a hospital).  The MFS’ and the author’s implication is that the story has changed but nowhere has the US military said firing did not come from the hospital.  Adding more information to a story doesn’t eliminate initial reports.
    The article makes much of eyewitness reports (primarily from MFS sources supposedly).  What is the expertise of these witnesses to determine how far firing is coming from especially while inside a hospital with thick walls, windows facing away from the potential firefight (what one often hears is the echo of fire from buildings farther away reflecting the sound giving an illusion of distance)?  What really sparks my interest is how one judges the distance of a firefight from inside a basement.  A basement strong enough to survive a raging foire outside and the artillery fire that destroyed the hospital above it.  Of course this kind of questioning is inconvenient..

  • LawyerHandle 
    Thanks for sharing.A
    highly questionable piece from a news organization that has a very specific
    view of the world.That said, one can
    learn something from even biased or incomplete reporting.
    I wonder if the Mullah or the dead brother (who was likely a
    military aged male) had any connections to the Taliban?
     The author makes a point of stating the AC130 crew asked if
    the strike was legal.Then the media
    never answers what the response was.This reminds me of the Washington Post story that mentioned the latest
    female Ranger School grad asking why fellow Rangers and instructors have issues
    with women attending Ranger school and NEVER address what the Rangers had to
    say on the subject. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/10/12/army-ranger-school-has-a-groundbreaking-new-graduate-lisa-jaster-37-engineer-and-mother/The WP article then goes on to extol the woman’s
    accomplishment (which it is) implying the “other side” of the argument has no
    value. The FP article employs this some “reporting” approach several times.
      The FP article says some legal scholars categorize the
    strike as a “war crime”.Then
    doesn’t explain their rationale.I’m
    sure some legal scholars would state the opposite.I’m no legal scholar but have had more than
    just a cursory introduction to the laws of war over 20+ years.I’ve explained a rationale above.It isn’t seen anywhere else but more
    importantly, never contested…
     The article cites the allied report that firing came from
    the hospital.It was very effective fire
    from some reports (specifically this author’s previous report).FWIW, the authors previous report he himself
    identified bullet holes coming out from the inside of the guardhouse.Quite a different take inthis report.
     Anyway, the latest story cites an evolving story (not
    uncommon in combat).Instead of US
    forces being engaged, it was Afghan forces (which never states the American
    advisors weren’t with those forces).Another development is the US admission it made a “mistake” hitting a hospital
    (let’s ignore that the US never explains why it was a mistake besides being a
    PC response to striking a hospital).The
    MFS’ and the author’s implication is that the story has changed and therefore
    credibility damaged but nowhere has the US military said firing did not come
    from the hospital.Adding more
    information to a story doesn’t eliminate initial reports.
     The article makes much of eyewitness reports (primarily from
    MFS sources supposedly).What is the
    expertise of these witnesses to determine how far firing is coming from especially
    while inside a hospital with thick walls, windows facing away from the
    potential firefight (what one often hears is the echo of fire from buildings
    farther away reflecting the sound giving an illusion of distance)?What really sparks my interest is how one
    judges the distance of a firefight from inside a basement.A basement strong enough to survive a raging
    fire outside and the artillery fire that destroyed the hospital above it.Of course this kind of questioning is
    inconvenient…
     I leave my best points for last.Repeatedly the story says the firing was far
    away but then when survivors came out of the basement they are forced back into
    the basement by heavy fire nearby.Hmmmm, that’s weird if there was no battle nearby the hospital.Did the AC130’s strike draw enemy to the
    area?Or was there a firefight outside
    the hospital all along that couldn’t be properly evaluated from the safety of a
    basement under a heavily constructed hospital.
     Oh, a survivor recounted trying to leave the hospital while
    it was under fire and the man in front of him being cut down by bullets on the
    hospital grounds.Who shot him with
    bullets?The AC130U doesn’t have a
    machinegun?The smallest weapon in it is
    a 25mm cannon and if one of those rounds hits you, you become a red mist.
     Finally, the Mullah recounts, “Once the sound of the plane
    that had carried out the attack had disappeared into the night, the mullah said
    he peered out from the door of the basement. “It was around 6 a.m. that we left
    the basement and walked around.” The hospital was in flames.”
     The airstrike started at 2:00 AM and went on for an
    hour.Maybe the AC130 stayed until
    daylight when common US practice is to withdraw the lumbering aircraft but it
    did stop shooting.Maybe for lack of
    targets?But wait, the survivors
    themselves said nearby fire drove them back into the basement 10 minutes after
    they came out. Did the Taliban decide to
    come investigate after the US bombed the hospital OR were they the remnants
    that survived (and precipitated the airstrike) the AC130 attack?Then they just restarted the same firefight
    that brought the AC130 to the table in the first place.
     Just the right kind of reporting presents an entirely
    different picture, a testament to journalism today.  Maybe someone should post a on FP to this discussion for the critical thinkers to ponder.

  • LawyerHandle

    I immediately questioned how these people could survive so long in basement of a building with a fire raging upstairs that previous article pictures show had to have been burning at an extremely high temperature. It seems to me that such a fire would turn the concrete lined basement into almost an oven, making survival for 6 plus hours extremely unlikley. I know heat rises, but still…
    There was also part of the article that says there was no fighting close to the hospital but then a bit later it says fighting was as close as 200 yards away. I don’t know what “close” is is war, but I wouldn’t want to be a long par 3 away from a raging gun battle in Afghanistan.