Doctors Without Borders ‘Accidentally Struck’ Purely a Coincidence?

On Oct. 3, a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières trauma center in the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz was bombed by the American military. According to the MSF, at least 12 doctors, three children and seven patients were killed, with many missing. The NATO forces in Afghanistan admitted that this airstrike “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” After the incident, President Barack Obama offered his “deepest condolences.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned this action in a statement issued through a spokesperson.

Why was the MSF center accidentally struck? The incident was related to the recent intense fighting in Kunduz. On Sept. 28, during the first anniversary of Ashraf Ghani’s presidency in Afghanistan, Taliban militants raided and occupied Kunduz, achieving their biggest military victory since they were ousted from power in 2001. Since Sept. 29, the Afghan Armed Forces have begun their counterattacks in support of the American airstrike. In a television broadcast, Ghani said that progress in the fight for reclaiming Kunduz was being made, but because the Taliban were using civilians as human shields, advances by the Armed Forces were impeded. The Afghan Internal Ministry said that 10 to 15 militants had hidden in the MSF trauma center.

However, this statement was denied by the Taliban and has not been confirmed by the MSF. A report by the MSF stated that the trauma center at that time had approximately 105 patients and family members, in addition to more than 80 foreign and local MSF staff, while calling into question the airstrike occurring near the hospital. According to the report, the main central hospital building was struck repeatedly during each aerial raid “while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.” This indicated that the MSF trauma center was the main target of the strike. Therefore, the MSF also could not accept the “collateral damage” explanation from the NATO forces.

No one has denied that the bombing of a neutral organization such as the MSF was an accidental strike, but this is a meaningless classification. Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, there have been many tragic cases of civilians being accidentally struck, but this mode of attack has never been effectively rectified. As for the bombing of the MSF or a similar version of an accidental bombing attack, the military has focused only on seeking victory, and this has been the most economical method to counter militants who were kidnapping civilians to be used as shields. When it comes to the issue of accidental bombing and the resulting negative political aftermath, other departments deal with them.

Of course, this bombing of the MSF could be the result of a simple technical failure. Whether that is true or not, based on past approaches, the simplest resolution to the negative political aftermath resulting from an accidental bombing would be to attribute it to a technical failure. However, this type of resolution does not work every time. Previous accidental civilian bombings have once and again chipped away the rationale for NATO’s military operations in Afghanistan, and the repercussion from this time was even greater. In addition, this accidental bombing gives the public reason to doubt the current military operations in Syria; asking for example, which military operations are necessary, and who determines the legitimacy of these military operations?

This incident deals with the big question of how the international community will face this humanitarian crisis. The tragedy of the attack on the MSF again demonstrated that initiating an operation solely by virtue of military advantage cannot readily resolve a humanitarian crisis, but, on the contrary, can easily magnify the crisis.

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