MSF calls for independent and impartial investigation of U.S. attack on Kunduz hospital

BBC News reports: A US aircraft attacked a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic in the Afghan city of Kunduz because of “human error”, a US military inquiry said.

The investigation found the crew of the AC-130 gunship mistook the clinic for a nearby government building that had been seized by Taliban fighters.

At least 30 civilians were killed in the 3 October attack, amid a campaign to retake Kunduz from Taliban forces.

MSF said the report demonstrates “gross negligence” by the US military.

The group said the incident constituted “violations of the rules of war” and reiterated calls for an “independent and impartial investigation into the attack”. [Continue reading…]


ISIS suspected of using chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq

Reuters reports: Chemical weapons experts have determined that mustard gas was used in a Syrian town where Islamic State insurgents were battling another group, according to a report by an international watchdog seen by Reuters.

A confidential Oct. 29 report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a summary of which was shown to Reuters, concluded “with the utmost confidence that at least two people were exposed to sulphur mustard” in the town of Marea, north of Aleppo, on Aug. 21.

“It is very likely that the effects of sulphur mustard resulted in the death of a baby,” it said.

The findings provide the first official confirmation of use of sulphur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas, in Syria since it agreed to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, which included sulphur mustard.

The report did not mention Islamic State, as the fact-finding mission was not mandated to assign blame, but diplomatic sources said the chemical had been used in the clashes between Islamic State and another rebel group taking place in the town at the time.

“It raises the major question of where the sulphur mustard came from,” one source said. “Either they (IS) gained the ability to make it themselves, or it may have come from an undeclared stockpile overtaken by IS. Both are worrying options.”

Syria is supposed to have completely surrendered the toxic chemicals 18 months ago. Their use violates U.N. Security Council resolutions and the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

The findings were part of three reports released to members of the OPCW last week. They add to a growing body of evidence that the Islamic State group has obtained, and is using, chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]


Médecins Sans Frontières releases internal review of Kunduz hospital attack

Médecins Sans Frontières reports: The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today released an internal document reviewing the October 3 airstrikes by US forces on its hospital in northern Afghanistan. The chronological review of the events leading up to, during, and immediately following the airstrikes reveal no reason why the hospital should have come under attack. There were no armed combatants or fighting within or from the hospital grounds.

The document, part of an ongoing review of events undertaken by MSF, is based upon sixty debriefings of MSF national and international employees who worked at the 140-bed trauma center, internal and public information, before and after photographs of the hospital, email correspondence, and telephone call records. At least thirty people were killed in the airstrikes, including 13 staff members, 10 patients and 7 unrecognizable bodies yet to be identified.

“The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF general director. “But we don’t know why. We neither have the view from the cockpit, nor the knowledge of what happened within the US and Afghan military chains of command.”

The initial findings of the MSF review firmly establish the facts from inside the hospital in the days leading up to and during the attack. The review includes the details of the provision of the GPS coordinates and the log of phone calls from MSF to military authorities in attempt to stop the airstrikes. MSF had reached an agreement with all parties to the conflict to respect the neutrality of the hospital, based on international humanitarian law.

“We held up our end of the agreement — the MSF trauma center in Kunduz was fully functioning as a hospital with surgeries ongoing at the time of the US airstrikes,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of MSF. “MSF’s no-weapons policy was respected and hospital staff were in full control of the facility prior to and at the time of the airstrikes.”

Among the 105 patients at the time of the airstrikes, MSF was treating wounded combatants from both sides of the conflict in Kunduz, as well as women and children.

“Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban,” said Stokes. “Wounded combatants are patients under international law, and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination. Medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants.”

The MSF internal review describes patients burning in their beds, medical staff that were decapitated and had lost limbs, and others who were shot from the air while they fled the burning building.

“The attack destroyed our ability to treat patients at a time of their greatest need,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of MSF. “A functioning hospital caring for patients cannot simply lose its protected status and be attacked.”


Russia dismisses questions about airstrikes on hospitals in Syria

EA Worldview reports: Russia’s Defense Ministry has tried a new line to dampen bad publicity over its airstrikes on hospitals in Syria, saying the medical facilities do not exist.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov said the accusations of several damaged hospitals, with the deaths of staff and patients, were “traditionally made without any proof, without any factual backing”. He claimed that, of six hospitals said to have been struck, only one is real. [Continue reading…]

Médecins Sans Frontières reports: Airstrikes in Syria have killed at least 35 Syrian patients and medical staff in 12 hospitals in northern Syria since an escalation in bombings began in late September, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

According to staff at the hospitals, the attacks, which have also wounded 72 people, targeted medical facilities in Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama governorates, including six supported by MSF. Overall, six hospitals have been forced to close, including three supported by MSF, and four ambulances were destroyed. One hospital has since reopened, yet access to emergency, maternity, pediatric, and primary health care services remains severely disrupted. [Continue reading…]


At least 70 killed and 550 wounded in horrific market-bombing in Damascus besieged area

Médecins Sans Frontières reports: At least 70 people have been killed and 550 injured in an air strike on a marketplace in the Douma neighbourhood near Damascus, Syria.

As the nearest makeshift hospital had been bombed the previous day, medical workers struggled to cope with the influx of injured people. MSF fears the intensification of bombing that has been seen in northern and central Syria over the course of October could become even more horrific if it spreads to besieged areas around Damascus, where almost a million people are trapped with no way to escape, few medical facilities, and no options for medical evacuations of seriously wounded.

The devastation caused by the initial air strike on the market was exacerbated by further shelling on the rescue teams who were attending to the wounded. Two hundred and fifty patients required surgery, and a further 300 patients have been treated for non-surgical wounds. The multi-trauma wounds are described by medics as being worse than anything they have seen before.

“This was an extremely violent bombing,” says the director of a nearby MSF-supported hospital who assisted in the first wave of mass-casualty response. “The wounds were worse than anything we’ve seen before, and there were large numbers of dead. We had to do many amputations. And a lot of the wounded had massive blood-loss, which means we needed large amounts of IV-fluid and blood bags. We did out best to cope, but the number of critically wounded was far beyond what we could handle with our limited means.”

Because so many hospitals have been destroyed in Syria’s conflict, many facilities have moved services underground or split up services across different locations in a bid to remain operational. The entrance gate of the Douma makeshift hospital had been struck by bombing on Thursday, causing 15 dead and 100 wounded. Because the services had recently been split across several buildings, the hospital was able to respond to part of the mass casualty influx. However, the overwhelming numbers of critically wounded meant that no one single hospital could have coped, and six other makeshift hospitals also launched mass casualty response plans to help treat the wounded from the marketplace bombing. [Continue reading…]


Russian raids said to deliberately target rebel field hospitals in Syria

RFE/RL reports: Russian air strikes in Syria have deliberately targeted field hospitals in strategic opposition-controlled areas of Syria, killing and injuring staffers, disrupting their work and in some cases disabling hospitals altogether, opposition sources in Syria claim.

The head of the opposition-controlled Free Health Directorate of Aleppo, Yasser Darwish, told RFE/RL’s correspondent in Syria this week that since the Russian air campaign started on September 30, Russian warplanes had carried out over 40 raids on field hospitals in the southern Aleppo countryside, as well as in Hama and Idlib provinces.

The raids have damaged field hospitals in the southern countryside of Aleppo, including in Al-Eis, Al-Hadher, Khan Tuman, and Al-Zirba, Darwish said.

Civilian casualties were reported in Al-Zirba and Al-Hadher in Russian raids on October 15.

Other doctors, including Dr. Muhammad Tennari, the director of Sarmin hospital in Idlib Province, where at least 12 people were killed in an air raid last week, have also claimed that Russia is deliberately targeting medical facilities. [Continue reading…]


How the U.S. government condemns or ignores indiscriminate bombing

Micah Zenko writes: If you watch U.S. government press conferences, you will occasionally come across a moment of incidental but illuminating honesty. Yesterday, one such moment occurred during a routine press briefing with Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the command element for the war against the self-declared Islamic State. Col Warren was asked about the growing number of disturbing allegations of Russia’s indiscriminate use of airpower in Syria. Just the day before, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “it appears the vast majority of [Russian] strikes, by some estimates as high as 85 percent to 90 percent, use dumb bombs.” Warren echoed Carter’s assessment, claiming that, “Russians have chosen to use a majority of really, just dumb bombs, just gravity bombs, push them out the back of an airplane, and let them fall where they will.”

Col. Warren went further to castigate Russia for its use of one particular type of ordinance: “You know, there’s been reporting that the Russians are using cluster munitions in Syria, which we also find to be irresponsible. These munitions have a high dud rate, they can cause damage and they can hurt civilians, and they’re just, you know, not good.”

That cluster munitions are “not good,” except as a reliable method for killing noncombatants outside of an intended target field, is a well-known and established fact. According to one UN estimate, the failure rates for cluster munitions vary from between 2 and 5 percent (according to manufacturers) to between 10 and 30 percent (according to mine clearance personnel). They were subsequently banned by the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force in August 2010 and has been endorsed by ninety-eight states parties. Notable states that have refused to sign and ratify the convention include those that consistently uses airpower to achieve their military objectives, such as Russia, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]


Selective anti-imperialism: Why some bombings provoke more outrage than others

Sam Charles Hamad writes: Earlier this month in the Afghan city of Kunduz, the U.S. committed an apparent war crime. At some point in the early hours of Oct. 3, a U.S. gunship fired on a hospital run by Medicins Sans Frontieres, destroying the facility, killing 22 people and injuring over 30. There is no doubt of the criminality of this act — even if, as the U.S. and Afghani governments have suggested, the attack occurred due to Taliban militants having some presence within the hospital compound (a claim vigorously denied by eyewitnesses and victims), it was still a crime.

In the hours following the attack, many people of all political persuasions from around the world rightfully condemned it, but perhaps most vocal were those on the political left. Public outrage over war crimes is of course not just to be welcomed passively, but it can be actively useful in terms of demanding accountability from those who committed the crimes, while giving a voice to its victims. All too often, when it comes to activity against these acts of criminality, it is organizations, political parties, and individuals who identify with the left that lead the charge on these matters — the consequences of this can be impressive.

And the left are no longer marginal. The so-called “alternative media” is catching up with the mainstream media in terms of its reach, while political forces that identify as left-wing are now once again in the mainstream of politics, whether it’s forces like SYRIZA in Greece or Jeremy Corbyn’s new role as the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition in the U.K. What these people do and say now matters on a global scale. Millions of politically-aware people from around the world hang on every word that prominent leftists write and say, whether it’s a figure such as Glenn Greenwald, whose news site The Intercept has become the go-to place for so-called “anti-imperialists,” or a leading politician such as Corbyn.

For a self-identified leftist like me, you might think I’d be over the moon at the way things were steadily — or exponentially, if you consider the rise of the left in this era relative to its fate in the past two decades — developing for the global left, but you’d be wrong. For there’s a bitter catch to all this. [Continue reading…]


Russian airstrikes in Syria appear to violate laws of war, says Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch: At least two air strikes in northern Homs on October 15, 2015, that local residents believed to be Russian, apparently violated the laws of war. The air strikes killed a total of 59 civilians, residents said, including 33 children and a commander of the local armed opposition group. Russia should investigate the attacks.

The deadliest attack hit a house in the village of Ghantou, where the extended Assaf family had taken shelter, killing a reported 46 family members, all civilians, including 32 children and 12 women, first responders and local activists said. The victims were related to a local commander affiliated with the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), but witnesses said that he was away from the home at the front lines. The second air strike, on the neighboring town of Ter Maaleh, hit near a bakery, and according to local witnesses, killed at least 13 civilians as well as a local FSA commander who was a Syrian army defector. It is not clear whether he was the intended target, as neither Russia nor Syria have issued statements about the specific air strikes. [Continue reading…]


Yemen hospital hit by Saudi-led air strike: Medecins Sans Frontieres

Reuters reports: A hospital in north Yemen run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was bombed in a Saudi-led air strike, wrecking the facility and lightly wounding two staff members, the group said on Tuesday.

A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March to try to restore its government after its toppling by Iran-allied Houthi forces, but a mounting civilian death toll has alarmed human rights groups.

“Our hospital in the Heedan district of Saada governorate was hit several times. Fortunately, the first hit damaged the operations theater while it was empty and the staff were busy with people in the emergency room. They just had time to run off as another missile hit the maternity ward,” MSF country director Hassan Boucenine told Reuters by telephone from Yemen.

“It could be a mistake, but the fact of the matter is it’s a war crime. There’s no reason to target a hospital. We provided (the coalition) with all of our GPS coordinates about two weeks ago,” he said. [Continue reading…]


Seven airstrikes on hospitals across Syria following Russian intervention, says human rights group

The New York Times reports: At least seven hospitals or medical facilities in Syria have been hit by airstrikes since Russia entered the civil war there, killing at least four people, according to an international human rights group and Syrian relief workers.

The latest strikes occurred Tuesday, when warplanes struck the town of Sarmin, in Idlib Province, killing a physiotherapist and a guard at the local field hospital administered by the Syrian American Medical Society, the society said in a statement.

It was impossible to independently confirm who had carried out that attack and earlier attacks on medical facilities in Hama, Latakia and Aleppo Provinces. Physicians for Human Rights, the group that documented the seven attacks, said Russian warplanes were responsible, citing evidence including information released by the Russian Defense Ministry that indicated its warplanes were flying missions near the medical facilities. [Continue reading…]


Three Syrian hospitals bombed since Russian airstrikes began, doctors say

The Guardian reports: At least three hospitals have been bombed by fighter jets in north-western Syria since Russia’s intervention in the war began in late September, doctors and international observers claim.

The latest attack, on Tuesday, killed at least 12 people at Sarmin hospital in Idlib province. At least three of the victims were believed to be medical staff. Survivors and witnesses said the hospital was hit by two airstrikes at about 1pm.

Dr Mohamed Tennari, director of Sarmin hospital, said the facility appeared to have been directly targeted and could no longer serve patients on one of the fiercest frontlines in the war.

He said the hospital had been the target of at least 10 other airstrikes earlier in the conflict. Throughout the war, international medical organisations have repeatedly claimed that medical facilities in opposition areas have been systematically targeted.

Physicians for Human Rights said it had documented 307 attacks on medical facilities and the deaths of 670 medical personnel in Syria since protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 until the end of August 2015. “Syrian government forces have been responsible for more than 90% of these attacks,” the organisation said. “Each of which constitutes a war crime.” [Continue reading…]


Could the Saudis be dragging the U.S. into a war crimes scandal?

PRI reports: Thirteen liberal legislators have put President Barack Obama on the spot for his support of Saudi Arabia’s unchecked war in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has been guided by US intelligence, flying American fighter jets and dropping US-made bombs.

A Human Rights Watch researcher has put the death toll from the incursion at 2,355 civilians since March.

Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingel and her colleagues reminded the president in a letter last week that Saudi Arabia, America’s strongest Arab ally and best weapons customer is behaving badly in Yemen, and could be dragging the US into a war crimes scandal. “With this level of active involvement in the campaign,” the letter reads, “we are concerned that some overseas may hold the United States responsible for any civilian casualties resulting from the bombing.”

Many Yemenis already hold America — and the UK — responsible for Saudi actions. [Continue reading…]


U.S. analysts knew Afghan site was hospital

The Associated Press reports: American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, The Associated Press has learned.

It’s unclear whether commanders who unleashed the AC-130 gunship on the hospital — killing at least 22 patients and hospital staff — were aware that the site was a hospital or knew about the allegations of possible enemy activity. The Pentagon initially said the attack was to protect U.S. troops engaged in a firefight and has since said it was a mistake.

The special operations analysts had assembled a dossier that included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents describing the site. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons.

After the attack — which came amidst a battle to retake the northern Afghan city of Kunduz from the Taliban — some U.S. analysts assessed that the strike had been justified, the former officer says. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.

No evidence has surfaced publicly suggesting a Pakistani died in the attack, and Doctors without Borders, the international organization that ran the hospital, says none of its staff was Pakistani. The former intelligence official was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity. [Continue reading…]


Amnesty: U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels may have committed war crimes in Syria

The Washington Post reports: A new report from human rights group Amnesty International suggests that Kurdish forces in northern Syria, among the most significant U.S. ground partners in the fight against the Islamic State, may have committed war crimes with a campaign of displacement and home demolitions aimed mostly at the local Arab population.

In the report released on Monday, Amnesty says it has found evidence that the local armed group known as the People’s Protection Units – better known by the acronym “YPG” – forced Arabs and Turkmen in northern Syria from their homes on behalf of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish political organization that has held de facto control of northern Syria’s so-called “Autonomous Administration” since January 2014.

“By deliberately demolishing civilian homes, in some cases razing and burning entire villages, displacing their inhabitants with no justifiable military grounds, the Autonomous Administration is abusing its authority and brazenly flouting international humanitarian law, in attacks that amount to war crimes,” Lama Fakih, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty, said in a statement. [Continue reading…]