Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine

On October 5 Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News reported that “Turkish military sources said a Russian SU-30 breached Turkish airspace for hundreds of meters in the southern district of Yayladağı in Hatay province for two minutes at 12:10 pm [on 3 October], but returned to Syrian airspace after one warning.”

“Two minutes.”  “Hundreds of metres.”  It was obviously a trivial incident.

There was not the slightest threat to any Turkish citizen, aircraft or any other national interest and nobody was in the slightest bit perturbed — until the US-NATO propaganda machine kicked into top gear and fed meaty titbits to the western media whose headlines then varied from the shrill  “Russian warplane violates Turkish airspace . . . Turkish jets intercept Russian fighter plane . . . Turkey warns Russia” to the thundering “NATO denounces ‘unacceptable’ Russian incursion into Turkey.”

The incident was so inconsequential that it did not merit news cover, but NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg rushed to announce that he had raised “the unacceptable violations of Turkish airspace by Russian combat aircraft” which “are not contributing to the security and stability of the region.”  Then Britain’s ambassador to Turkey, Richard Moore, described the incident as “reckless and worrying,” which assertion was so absurd as to have the merit of risibility.  The usual anonymous “US military official” was reported as having “suggested that the incident had come close to sparking an armed confrontation,” and the propaganda monsoon continued its deluge of disinformation.

NATO is desperate to manufacture some sort of justification for its continued existence. (As I write there is news coming in about coat-trailing confrontational troop deployments to the Baltic states.)  In addition to being subjected to humiliating defeat in Afghanistan by a bunch of raggy-baggy insurgents it was responsible for the catastrophe in Libya where in 2011 its blitz of roads, water pipelines and power stations reduced the country to ungovernable chaos. It is vital for NATO’s survival that it be able to involve itself in international difficulties, even when they have not the remotest relevance to NATO’s charter and purposes.

Stoltenberg managed to lift the trivial “violation” affair into the stratosphere of international security and was assisted by such as the Britain’s defence secretary, Michael Fallon,  who declared that “our evidence indicates they [Russian aircraft] are dropping unguided munitions in civilian areas, killing civilians.” And after the BBC reported that “NATO has urged Russia to end air strikes on the Syrian opposition and civilians” the New York Times recorded yet another “senior administration official” as saying “I don’t believe it [the two minute flyover] was an accident” which “raises questions about basic safe conduct in the skies.”

It is intriguing that Fallon’s allegation about Russia killing civilians with “unguided munitions” and the “senior administration official” talking about “basic safe conduct in the skies,” along with Stoltenberg’s absurd and contrived over-reaction to a tiny incident, coincided with news of slaughter of civilians by United States air attacks on a hospital in Afghanistan.

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF ; in English, Doctors without Boundaries), is a saintly organisation that provides medical care in many dangerous and disgusting places around the world, in which at the moment there are few more dangerous and disgusting than Afghanistan. It is difficult to have other than the deepest admiration for its local and international staff.  But this doesn’t stop them being killed.

In the early hours of Saturday 3 October the MSF hospital in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan was smashed by airstrikes that killed 22 people including 12 hospital staff and three children, and the Washington Post reported that “a US military official said US special forces were on the ground advising Afghan special forces and authorized an AC-130 gunship to fire at an area that was apparently near the hospital.”

The conclusion from that statement is that the gunship pilot and weapons experts made a target location error and destroyed the hospital by mistake.  But then the Afghan authorities kicked in and the acting governor of Kunduz province, Hamdullah Danishi, stated that “the hospital campus was 100 percent used by the Taliban.”  Who could be believed?

Following devastation and death came deceit and deception, led by the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, who has weaselled through the entire sickening story with all the style and delicacy of Al Capone talking his way out of the St Valentine’s Day massacre.

First of all this man was reported on 5 October as stating that US forces had not ordered the airstrikes.  He said “We have now learned that on 3 October, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from US forces. An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck. This is different from the initial reports, which indicated that US forces were threatened and that the airstrike was called on their behalf.”

There is no possibility that in any circumstances a US military pilot would take orders from a foreigner — any foreigner at all — to carry out an airstrike.

The order for the series of attacks on the MSF hospital came directly from a person wearing United States military uniform.  It is impossible that this person did not know exactly where the target was located and what it was because no forward air controller can order an airstrike on a target of which he does not know the exact coordinates — and “MSF wishes to clarify that all parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location (GPS Coordinates) of the MSF facilities . . . these were communicated to all parties on multiple occasions.”

The attacks and the slaughter were the responsibility of the United States.  For Campbell to try to disguise this fact and place the blame on Afghan forces was despicable and dishonourable.  His line that “several civilians were accidentally struck” is below contempt.

And then he changed his tune.

On October 6 this medal-spattered dimwit admitted that  “To be clear, the decision to provide aerial fire was a US decision made within the US chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.”

As witnessed by Heman Nagarathnam of the MSF,  “the bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round. There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds.”

Dr Musadeq said that he “was inside the hospital, working well into the night with other doctors to treat a growing number of patients with war injuries” when “Suddenly thunderous explosions struck and it felt like the sky was falling down. I can’t believe all the faithful doctors who worked night and day to save people’s live are now gone.” he told AFP by telephone, breaking down in tears.

There is going to be an inquiry, but it will exonerate every US person concerned, just as the inquiry into the night-long US airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistan army soldiers — inside Pakistan — on 26 November 2011 failed to identify the guilty.  Not one Pakistani was permitted to give evidence or even attend the inquiry.  As I wrote on December 2, 2011:

The killing of  24 Pakistan army soldiers in Mohmand Tribal Agency on November 26 by US air strikes is unforgivable. I was in Mohmand three weeks ago, visiting 77 Brigade, whose officers and soldiers were slaughtered by US aircraft,  and I know exactly where Pakistan’s border posts are located. And so do American forces, because they have been informed of the precise coordinates of all of them. —  Just as MSF told “all parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington . . . of the precise location (GPS Coordinates) of the MSF facilities.”

US-NATO will continue to make claims such as that Russia is “dropping unguided munitions in civilian areas, killing civilians,” while Chief Stoltenberg and all the US-NATO propaganda operatives will concentrate on deflecting attention from the gunship slaughter in Kunduz.  They will probably succeed, and the tragedy will disappear from public view.  Propaganda usually beats accountability.  But it will not bring three dead Afghan children back to life.



“Where is my brother Doctor Naseer? He works at this hospital and his cellphone is off,” the man asks after looking around in the compound.

“He might have been taken to another hospital,” responds another man.

The man wells up with tears and says: “No, he was here, right here in this hospital last night. Now I can’t find him.”

Sleep well, you gunship warriors of the skies.

This article appeared in a shorter version in Strategic Culture Foundation on October 7. 


Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.