Afghan defense minister says Taliban hid in bombed hospital

Afghanistan's acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the defense ministry in Kabul on Monday.

Afghanistan’s acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the defense ministry in Kabul on Monday.

Afghanistan’s acting defense minister said on Monday that the Doctors Without Borders hospital in the north of the country that was bombed by US forces was being used by insurgents who were fighting government forces.

Masoom Stanekzai said in an interview that Taliban insurgents and possibly Pakistani intelligence operatives were using the facility in Kunduz city as a “safe place.”

The hospital was bombed by a US AC-130 gunship in the early hours of Oct. 3, killing at least 22 people and injuring many more. The main building was destroyed and the hospital has been shut down.

“That was a place they wanted to use as a safe place because everybody knows that our security forces and international security forces were very careful not to do anything with a hospital,” Stanekzai said. “But when there was on one of the walls of the hospital, there was a Taliban flag — what can you think?“

The group, also known by its French acronym MSF, has repeatedly denied the presence of Taliban fighters in the hospital compound at the time of the attack.

Kate Stegeman, MSF’s communications director in Afghanistan said on Monday: “We reiterate that every staff member in Kunduz working for MSF has repeatedly reported to us that there were no armed people in the hospital at the time of the bombing.”

Doctors without Borders has acknowledged that it treated wounded Taliban fighters at the Kunduz hospital, but it insists no weapons were allowed in. Afghans who worked at the hospital have told the AP that no one was firing from within.

But Stanekzai insisted that a Taliban flag had been hoisted on the walls around the hospital compound and that the militants were using it as a base.

“I am saying the compound was being used by people who were fighting there, whether it was Taliban or Daesh or whoever they were,” he said, referring to Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, long accused by Kabul of supporting the Taliban. “If the fighting was not coming from there, that kind of a mistake will never happen.”

Taliban fighters took control of Kunduz on Sept. 28 in a multi-pronged surprise attack. What followed was a three-day looting and killing spree that ended when government forces launched a counter offensive on Oct. 1.

The hospital was bombed repeatedly just after 2 a.m. on Oct. 3. President Barack Obama apologized for the bombing and the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell said it was a mistake. He said the airstrike had been called in by Afghan forces.

According to AP reporting, American special operations analysts were scrutinizing the Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity. The analysts knew it was a medical facility, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents describing the site.

It’s unclear whether that information ever got to commanders who unleashed the AC-130 gunship on the hospital.

Details of the incident are being investigated by the US military, NATO and by the Afghan government as part of its probe into how the Taliban were able to take over the provincial capital, the first major urban center they’ve taken since a US invasion toppled their regime and the insurgency began in 2001. Preliminary details of the NATO investigation are expected in the coming days.


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