U.S. military struggles to explain how it wound up bombing Doctors Without Borders hospital

A heavily-armed U.S. gunship designed to provide added firepower to special operations forces was responsible for shooting and killing 22 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan over the weekend, Pentagon officials said Monday.

The attack occurred in the middle of the night Saturday, when Afghan troops—together with a U.S. special forces team training and advising them—were on the ground near the hospital in Kunduz, the first major Afghan city to fall to the Taliban since the war began in 2001. The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said Monday the airstrike was requested by Afghan troops who had come under fire, contradicting earlier statements from Pentagon officials that the strike was ordered to protect U.S. forces on the ground.

[Afghan response to hospital bombing is muted, even sympathetic]

The new details of the attack, and the continuing dispute over what exactly happened, heightened the controversy over the strike. In the two days since the incident, U.S. officials have struggled to explain how a U.S. aircraft wound up attacking a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. On Monday, the medical humanitarian group said the United States was squarely responsible.

“The reality is the U.S. dropped those bombs,” Doctors Without Borders’ general director Christopher Stokes said in a statement. “With such constant discrepancies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.”

The weekend’s disastrous airstrike reinforces doubts about how effectively a limited U.S. force in Afghanistan can work with Afghan troops to repel the Taliban, which has been newly emboldened as the United States draws down its presence.

The strike also comes as the Obama administration is currently weighingwhether to keep as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2015, according to senior officials. Obama has not made a final decision on the proposal, but the recent advances by the Taliban have certainly complicated the president’s calculus.

Campbell told reporters Monday at a press conference that Afghan forces “advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces.” Campbell made it clear that this differed from initial reports that said U.S. forces were under attack and called in the airstrikes for their defense.

Campbell’s remarks differed from two previous comments, including one made by Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter on Sunday that said U.S. forces were under attack.

“At some point in the course of the events there [they] did report that they, themselves, were coming under attack. That much I think we can safely say,” Carter told reporters Sunday.

Afghan Teen Stabbed US Soldier to Death, Escaped

Taliban Says Attacker Acted Alone

Details are emerging about the killing of US Sgt. Michael Cable last week, with officials confirming that he was stabbed to death by an Afghan civilian, believed to be a teenager. Nangarhar_in_AfghanistanThe attacker stabbed Cable in the neck during a meeting in Nangarhar Province. Cable was outside and reportedly playing with children who had come to the site when the attack occurred, and the assailant escaped. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid identified the attacker as a 16-year-old named Khalid, saying he was acting on his own in the killing but had since joined the Taliban after fleeing the scene. Today’s revelations are a stark change from the Pentagon’s initial statement on the matter, which claimed he was killed in combat with “enemy forces.” Officials say that since the attacker was not in uniform it is not believed to be an “insider attack,” and there is no indication he was working for the Afghan security forces at the time.

By Jason Ditz

‘Pathetic Coward’: Prince Harry Blasted for Taliban Comments

Taliban fighters are full of derision for Prince Harry following the broadcast of an interview in which he brags of killing rebel fighters. NATO officers in Kabul are likewise unimpressed.

Prince Harry, 28, had barely returned from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan before he found himself back in the spotlight. Comments he made during interviews conducted while he was still in the country immediately made headlines: “I’ve Killed Taliban Fighters.” His comments were publicized after the prince returned from a five-month tour, during which he was stationed in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan as the co-pilot gunner of an Apache helicopter.

In the interview, in which he spoke about his mission in the restive province, Prince Harry told the BBC: “If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game.” He added: “We fire when we have to, take a life to save a life.” When asked by a journalist if he, as helicopter gunman, had taken lives as well, Harry responded, “yeah, so, lots of people have.”Reactions from the Taliban to Prince Harry’s comments have been full of derision on Tuesday. “Prince Harry is a pathetic coward. No respectable fighter with a shred of honor would brag like that,” said a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan in a telephone interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. “Why does he only have the courage to go public once he is back in his palace?”

For security reasons, Harry’s comments were only to be broadcast once he had returned to Britain. In his comments, the prince said, “I’m one of the guys. I don’t get treated any differently.”

‘So Much Naiveté’

Another Taliban commander told SPIEGEL ONLINE that he was speechless “in the face of so much naiveté.” He added: “The fact that NATO has to send such people to Afghanistan shows just how bad a shape they are in. Don’t they have anyone better?” He added that Harry’s comments were a major topic of conversation among Taliban fighters and that they are received “with hearty laughter.” They are even being shared around via text message. Harry’s remarks, he said, have merely confirmed his feeling that NATO “doesn’t have the slightest idea about the sensitivities of people in Afghanistan.”Even within NATO, Prince Harry’s comments were not universally well received. Particularly his remarks in which he said that his passion for video games makes him a particularly good gunner. He said his job was “a joy … because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful.”

“He may have said that in jest, but the impression he leaves is disastrous,” said a German army officer in Kabul. “The mission in Afghanistan is not a game.” A British officer in NATO headquarters in Kabul said it was “problematic” to compare the war in Afghanistan in any way with video games. “It not only demeans the achievements of soldiers in battle. It also shows no respect for the Afghans we are trying to help.”

By Hasnain Kazim in Islamabad

Afghan Policeman Kills Two US Troops in Insider Attack

Officials Offer Few Details on Uruzgan Province Killings

A man in an Afghan police uniform attacked and killed two US soldiers today in the Uruzgan Province in the latest apparent “green-on-blue” attack in Afghanistan. Officials have yet to confirm the attacker’s identity, and don’t know if he was an actual policeman or just someone who stole a uniform.

The attacker approached the soldiers pre-dawn as they were returning from a patrol, then opened fire killing two before escaping into the countryside. There was no indication what caused the incident, as many such shootings have been retaliation for arguments.

If confirmed as an “insider” attack this would be 55 NATO soldiers killed so far this year in such attacks, by far the most of any single year in the 11+ year occupation of Afghanistan.

Taliban officials have regularly claimed credit for such attacks, though how many they are actually responsible for is a matter of some dispute. Taliban leader Mullah Omar released a statement yesterday urging his fighters to infiltrate the Afghan security forces to launch more such attacks.

by Jason Ditz

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