Whenever you’re running an air campaign there’s always the possibility of collateral damage. In simpler terms, we you’re dropping bombs on populated areas, you’re invariably going to kill some non-combatants.
Now ideally, you want to keep the number of dead civilians to a minimum, which is why The Intercept’s recent investigative report on America’s drone program was so disturbing – it turns out 90% of people killed aren’t the intended target.
And while that would be bad enough on its own, the US and its regional allies in the Mid-East have recently made a number of “mistakes” while attempting to strike Taliban and Houthi targets in Afghanistan and Yemen, respectively.
The most high profile screw up came earlier this month when US warplanes somehow mistook a hospital run by the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors without Borders, in the Afghan city of Kunduz for a Taliban hangout.
The aftermath of the US bombing:
A subsequent report by AP suggests US Green Berets and officials in Washington knew full well they were firing on a hospital but believed there was “a large group of Taliban fighters in it.” Here’s more from AP:
The new information adds to a body of evidence that the U.S. military was closely examining the internationally run medical facility site, raising questions about whether the decision to attack it on October 3 violated international law. The attack left a mounting death toll, now up to 30 people. By one account, U.S. troops requested the air strike after coming under fire.
In the days before the attack, “an official in Washington” asked Doctors without Borders “whether our hospital had a large group of Taliban fighters in it,” spokesman Tim Shenk said in an email. “We replied that this was not the case. We also stated that we were very clear with both sides to the conflict about the need to respect medical structures.”
Taken together, the revelations raise the possibility that U.S. forces destroyed what they knew was a functioning hospital, which would be a violation of the international rules of war. The Pentagon has said Americans would never have intentionally fired on a medical facility. It’s unclear why the Green Beret unit requested the strike – and how such an attack was approved by the chain of command – on coordinates widely known to have included a hospital.
Doctors without Borders officials say the hospital was not under Taliban control and that no gunmen were operating from within the compound – about six city blocks square with the one-story hospital situated some two blocks back behind a 12-foot wall – when the AC-130 gunship made five passes, firing for an hour.
Doctors without Borders has said it was frantically calling Kabul and Washington during the attack, trying to make the U.S. aware of what was unfolding as patients died in their beds.
You can draw your own conclusions there and you’re encouraged to read the full AP report.
Of course that’s not the only example of questionable targeting by “coalition” forces. In September, the Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-backed rebels in Yemen struck a wedding party in in the Red Sea village of Al-Wahijah killing dozens upon dozens including “many” women and children. The groom was allegedly affiliated with the Houthis. About a week later, the Saudis bombed another wedding south of Sana’a killing dozens more Yemenis.
Finally, Western media reported last week that Russian warplanes are targeting hospitals in Idlib and Aleppo. Here’s what the Russian foreign ministry had to say about those reports (via Maria Zakharova):
“There are so-called mass media reports which allege that Russian aircraft bombed a field hospital in the Idlib Governorate in northwestern Syria and reportedly killed 13 people. I cannot say that these reports are written by journalists but their ingenuity delights. This information appears with reference to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London. As we all understand, it is very ‘convenient’ to cover and observe what is happening in Syria without leaving London and without the ability to collect information in the field.”
Again, draw your own conclusions.
On Tuesday we learn that yet another Doctors Without Borders facility has been bombed, this time in Saada, Yemen. As Reuters reports, Saudi warplanes apparently “destroyed the entire hospital with all that was inside.” Here’s more:
A Yemeni hospital run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was hit by a Saudi-led air strike, the group said on Tuesday, the latest bombing of a civilian target in the seven-month air campaign in Yemen.
“MSF facility in Saada Yemen was hit by several air strikes last night with patients and staff inside the facility,” the group said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Yemen’s state news agency Saba, run the Iran-allied Houthi group that is the coalition’s enemy, quoted the Heedan hospital director saying that several people were injured in the attack.
“The air raids resulted in the destruction of the entire hospital with all that was inside – devices and medical supplies – and the moderate wounding of several people,” Doctor Ali Mughli said.
Saba said other air strikes hit a nearby girls school and damaged several civilian homes.
It was not immediately possible to confirm that report, and a coalition spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
— أطباء بلا حدود-اليمن (@msf_yemen) October 27, 2015
— MSF UK Press Office (@MSF_Press) October 27, 2015
And so, once more we see the head of the UN Human Rights Council displaying little regard for human life as Riyadh, Doha, and the UAE continue relentless airstrikes in the proxy war against their bitter regional rival Iran.
It’s worth noting here that reports of “collateral damage” are par for the proverbial course in Yemen. Since Saudi airstrikes began in March, more than 2,300 civilians have been killed according to the UN. UNICEF estimates some 500 of those were children. Of course the Houthis and Riyadh routinely tell completely different stories when it comes to who’s responsible for civilian casualties, but at the end of the day, innocent people are dying as a result of what’s become a multi-front sectarian-fueled, regional power struggle – that’s pretty much all you need to know.
Expect far more “mistakes” like the ones described above from both sides (that is, from the US and its regional allies and from the Russian-Iran alliance) and expect everyone involved (well, except for the victims) to write it off with prepared statements that approximate the following old idiom: “you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”