Immediately after the U.S. killed at least 30 people in a devastating airstrike on a charity hospital, Afghanistan’s national security adviser told a European diplomat that his country would take responsibility because “we are without doubt, 100 percent convinced the place was occupied by Taliban,” according to notes of the meeting reviewed by The Associated Press.
More than a month later, no evidence has emerged to support that Afghan position. Eyewitnesses tell the AP they saw no gunmen at the hospital.
Instead, there are mounting indications the U.S. military relied heavily on its Afghan allies who resented the internationally run hospital, which treated Afghan security forces and Taliban alike but says it refused to admit armed men.
The new evidence includes details the AP has learned about the location of American troops during the attack. The U.S. special forces unit whose commander called in the strike was under fire in the Kunduz provincial governor’s compound a half-mile away from the hospital, according to a former intelligence official who has reviewed documents describing the incident. The commander could not see the medical facility — so couldn’t know firsthand whether the Taliban were using it as a base — and sought the attack on the recommendation of Afghan forces, the official said.
Looking ahead, the strike raises questions about whether the U.S. military should rely on intelligence from Afghan allies in a war in which a small contingent of Americans will increasingly fight with larger units of local forces. Also at issue is how American commanders, with sophisticated information technology at their disposal, could have allowed the strike to go forward despite reports in their databases that the hospital was functioning. Even if armed Taliban fighters had been hiding inside, the U.S. acknowledges it would not have been justified in destroying a working hospital filled with wounded patients.