According to the New York Times, President Obama has apologized for last Saturday’s airstrike at the Doctors Without Borders (DWB) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The death toll has risen to nearly two dozen, including both doctors and patients. We now know two things: the attack on the hospital was ordered and carried out by American forces—via an AC-130 gunship, which truly is a death machine (see below)—and that DWB insists that it provided the GPS coordinates of the hospital to both Afghan and U.S. forces. This puts the rest to rumors that the Taliban or some other insurgent force pretended that they were Afghan government forces and gave the coordinates to the U.S. as a propaganda tactic.
Here’s the gunship in action; this is what the DWB hospital endured (and I’m amazed anyone survived):
Obama’s apology wasn’t well received by DWB:
But five days after an American AC-130 gunship devastated the medical facility, Mr. Obama’s personal expression of regret in a telephone call from the Oval Office appeared to do little to satisfy the leader of the doctors group, who issued a terse statement saying the president’s apology had been “received.”
Dr. Joanne Liu, the international president of Doctors Without Borders, repeated her demand for an independent investigation led by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to “establish what happened in Kunduz, how it happened, and why it happened.”
The deliberate bombing of hospitals is a war crime under the Geneva Convention. I seriously doubt whether U.S. forces did this deliberately. No matter how much you demonize the U.S., there was nothing to be gained, and a lot to lose, by going after such a hospital. Rather, it’s a cock-up; one of the many instances of “collateral damage’ (aka, the side effect of killing innocent civilians) that the U.S. has inflicted in its futile war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Sadly, we don’t see this same level of outrage against this “collateral damage” as when that damage involved not a hospital and an international team of doctors, but Afghan civilians. But lives are lives, no matter whose body lives them, and, if any good is to come out of this incident, it’s time we realized this, and time that we calculated whether this war is accomplishing anything.
The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in the history of the U.S., and it’s been unsuccessful. We haven’t quashed the Taliban, innocents continue to be massacred, and we’re propping up a weak Afghan military and a corrupt Afghan government. While slowing the decline in American troops in the country, President Obama has vowed to bring the American presence to an end by January of next year—the time he leaves office. What will happen then?
I think we know. As in Vietnam, we’ll declare victory and get the hell out. Some readers have commented that we must keep fighting there, for the alternative—the Taliban overrunning the country—is odious. Yes it is, but the only alternative to withdrawal is a full-on American assault of the country involving thousands of troops, which is even more unthinkable. The slow attrition of our troops now, with the consequent loss of both American lives and innocent civilians, is not a good compromise.
It’s time to admit that we’ve lost this war. Obama’s plan is no plan, but a military dog-and-pony show. Let us leave the country, make what reparations we can, and stop adding blood to our hands. How sad, though, that it takes the loss of non-Afghan lives to make us realize such a thing.