The U.S. military aircraft that attacked an Afghan hospital over the weekend made at least five passes over it dropping explosives, even though two flags draped across the roof of the building marked it as a medical facility, hospital officials said on Thursday.
In a news conference here in the Afghan capital, Doctors Without Borders officials reiterated that they think the hospital’s main building was “deliberately” targeted because it was the only structure hit during the bombardment. They denied that any Taliban fighters in the hospital were armed or using it as a base.
The building that was attacked housed an emergency room, intensive-care unit, blood lab, X-ray room and outpatient waiting room. At 2:08 a.m. Saturday, a large warplane appeared overhead and began strafing the one-story building, located in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, officials said.
The plane then circled around to drop more explosives on the building, repeating that process at least four times over the course of an hour. All other buildings on the grounds of the hospital, including patient rooms, were spared, said Guilhem Molinie, director of Doctors Without Borders operations in Afghanistan.
Said Christopher Stokes, executive director of the organization, which is also known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF): “The attack on the hospital in Kunduz constituted a major breach of trust. A hospital is a place of safety, not carnage.”
Hospital officials had previously stated that they had given Afghan and coalition troops the GPS coordinates of the buildings. Those coordinates pinpointed the front steps to the emergency room, officials said Thursday. Two 6-by-9-foot flags with the organization’s red and white logo also were draped across the roof, they said.
U.S. officials have said that an AC-130 “gunship,” which is used to support American Special Operations troops and can fire a range of ammunition, carried out the raid. It is not immediately clear whether the crew of the fighter craft, which uses infrared technology at night, could distinguish the markings on a flag.
Gen. Joseph F. Campbell, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said Monday that the Afghan military requested the airstrike but that it was vetted through the U.S. military chain of command. Afghan officials said they are awaiting the outcome of three coalition and Afghan military investigations before commenting on Campbell’s assertion.
On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders announced that it is seeking an independent investigation to explore whether it will press for war crimes charges under the Geneva Conventions.
President Obama called the organization’s executive director Wednesday to apologize.