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Swedish Aid Group Seeks Inquiry Into Afghan Hospital Raid

A Swedish aid group has demanded an independent investigation of a raid on a hospital in Afghanistan last week in which it said that three people, including a boy, were summarily executed by Afghan forces who were accompanied by NATO troops.

Jorgen Holmstrom, country director of the charity, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, on Wednesday called for the United States-led NATO military command and the Afghan government to provide "a detailed explanation of the incident." The raid began late on Feb. 17 at a hospital funded by the Swedish committee in troubled Wardak Province, southwest of Kabul.

The raid, in which hospital staff members were "arrested and beaten," Mr. Holmstrom said in a statement, was "a gross violation of humanitarian principles and the Geneva Convention, which states that all parties to a conflict must respect medical facilities."

The 10-bed hospital is in the Daimirdad district of Wardak, an area under Taliban control, and provides essentially all of the formal health care for the province. Just before midnight, Afghan police officers and foreign troops arrived by helicopter, according to Dr. Wahidullah, who is head of the facility and goes by only one name. The men began kicking in doors and searching the rooms, he said, and held handcuffed hospital workers at gunpoint.

"They were yelling at us that 'You are serving the Taliban!' " Dr. Wahidullah said. "I replied that this is a hospital. We provide services and medical assistance to everyone, ordinary citizens and pro-Taliban or government members alike."

The men then took two wounded patients and a young male visitor, he said. They handcuffed them and took them to a local shop, he said, "where they killed all three with bayonets and guns."

The government troops — including one woman — who entered the hospital spoke Pashto and Dari, the two main languages of Afghanistan, he said, but the men around the helicopter spoke English.

Officials with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or Unama, on Tuesday criticized the raid, and reminded Afghan officials and their NATO allies that military operations against medical facilities are against international humanitarian law.

The Swedish Committee said the foreign troops did not appear to have actually participated in the raid but rather waited nearby.

It was the second time in less than a year that the United States military mission in Afghanistan has been called to account by a human rights organization. In October, an American airstrike in the northern city of Kunduz destroyed a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing dozens of people in what aid officials called a war crime.

American Special Operations forces regularly accompany their Afghan counterparts as part of the United States' "train, advise and assist" mission, particularly on nighttime helicopter-borne operations where the Afghans lack expertise. But there was no official confirmation by the American command on the identity of the foreign troops who accompanied the raid.

"We are aware of the Unama report, and the Afghans are conducting an investigation," Col. Michael T. Lawhorn, a spokesman for NATO's Resolute Support mission and for United States Forces Afghanistan, said in a statement. "In addition, we are conducting a preliminary inquiry to determine whether there are any credible allegations of civilian casualties. It is Resolute Support policy not to discuss ongoing investigations."

The Afghan Interior Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

In an interview with The New York Times last week a local police official described the people killed in the Wardak raid as "terrorists," but no further explanation or identification has been forthcoming. The Taliban have said patients under treatment were "martyred" but have not said who they were.

[Source: By David Jolly, The New York Times, Kabul, 24Feb16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 07Mar16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.