clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

These satellite photos show just how thoroughly a US plane destroyed an Afghan hospital

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

In the early hours of October 3, an American AC-130 gunship attacked a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing at least 30 people. This Thursday morning, MSF released a preliminary internal review of the deadly incident — including this dramatic before-and-after footage of the hospital (the black line marks the compound's borders):

As you can see, the trauma center — the main hospital building — is almost completely flattened. "MSF staff recall that the first room to be hit was the ICU, where MSF staff were caring for a number of immobile patients, some of whom were on ventilators," the MSF report finds. "Immobile patients in the ICU burned in their beds."

We still don't have a good answer as to why the attack happened. The US has repeatedly shifted its story on the bombing, first saying the strike was called by US troops under fire in the area and later saying it'd been called by Afghan troops. The MSF report provides strong evidence that regardless of who called in the strike, there was no conceivable reason the hospital should have been targeted.

Contrary to claims made by Afghan officials, the review finds no evidence that the Taliban was using the hospital as a base. "There were no armed combatants within the hospital compound," the MSF investigators find, based on interviews with MSF staff and pre-attack records.

And contrary to some claims by at least one US official, they find, there was no nearby fighting in the area that could conceivably have resulted in the hospital being hit by accident.

"All MSF staff confirm that it was very calm in the hospital and its close surroundings," the report states. "No fighting was taking place around the hospital, no planes were heard overhead, no gunshots were reported, nor explosions in the vicinity of the hospital."

Moreover, the initial strike directly targeted the hospital building — a location whose GPS coordinates had been sent to the US coalition to mark it as a protected humanitarian zone. "A series of multiple, precise and sustained airstrikes targeted the main hospital building, leaving the rest of the buildings in the MSF compound comparatively untouched," MSF's investigators found. "This specific building of the hospital correlates exactly with the GPS coordinates provided to the parties to the conflict."

Now, this is a preliminary report. The US government is conducting its own investigation into the accident, one that may come to very different conclusions. But the facts arrayed by the MSF investigators are pretty compelling — and, if borne out, suggest a need for some real accountability.