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Mission Accomplished Redux: 1 Year After “End” to War in Afghanistan, Aid Workers Reveal Real Story

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While many Americans believe that the war in Afghanistan is winding down, peace activists and medical aid workers tell a different story. “That really shows how mainstream media has failed to tell the truth to the world,” says Dr. Hakim, a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. “The war is going on. It is deteriorating. Both the International Red Cross and the United Nations have reported an increase in civilian deaths over the past few years. So it is getting worse. It is definitely not scaling down. And I think Americans need to know that their taxpayer money is going to a war that is worsening.” Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent investigation of a U.S. airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz that left 22 dead, including 12 staff members and 10 patients, three of them children. We speak with Dr. Hakim, as well as Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who just returned from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re talking about the airstrike over the weekend by U.S. and Afghan forces in the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz on a Doctors Without Borders, Médecins Sans Frontières, hospital that’s killed 22 people, the majority staff and children in this hospital. Our guests are Dr. Gino Strada, who’s joining us from Milan, Italy—he’s co-founder of Emergency, operates a clinic in Kabul and dealing with some of the war wounded, as well, from Kunduz. Also, Dr. Hakim is with us. He is head of Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Dr. Hakim, you’re in Kabul right now. Can you talk about the Afghan response to this bombing in Kunduz?

DR. HAKIM: Well, thank you for having me on the program, Amy. Afghans have been inured to the many, many years of mistakes that the U.S.-NATO coalition have made in not only bombing, unfortunately, the hospital in Kunduz, but ordinary civilian events, like weddings, that Afghans hold. So I don’t think Afghans are surprised. They are definitely angry.

AMY GOODMAN: And what you’re seeing—Dr. Gino Strada just explained, at the clinic in Kabul that Emergency is operating out of, the increased casualties, as I think people in the United States think of the war in Afghanistan as certainly gearing down.

DR. HAKIM: That really shows how mainstream media has failed to tell the truth to the world. The war is going on. It is deteriorating. Both the International Red Cross as well as the United Nations have reported an increase in civilian casualties over the past few years. So it is getting worse. It is definitely not scaling down. And I think Americans need to know that their taxpayer money is going to a war that is worsening.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, you’re now in Portland, Maine, but you just returned from Afghanistan. You’re a leading peace activist in this country and around the world, several times nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Can you talk about what’s just happened in Kunduz and what you think needs to happen?

KATHY KELLY: Well, Amy, I think the United States military has again shown itself to be the most formidable warlord in the area. What is patently a war crime, the terrible bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, which went on from 2:08 in the morning until 3:15 in the morning, bombings that happened in 15-minute intervals. Eyewitness survivors said it was so terrible to be watching patients burning in their bed. This has now left an entire region without a hospital. And the United States referred to it as “collateral damage.” The United States military made that reference.

And I think it’s important to see this in the context of the healthcare [inaudible] that the United States has provided through USAID. You know, in July, the inspector general for Afghanistan, John Sopko, issued a letter to the head of USAID, saying 80 percent of the hospitals and healthcare facilities that they had listed as getting support from the United States, you couldn’t find the hospitals in Google Earth searches. They said that there was question raised about many of these locations. And so, you’ve got [inaudible] unverifiable locations of healthcare facilities supported by the United States. And then in Kunduz, you’ve got doctors and nurses being in a very terrible situation trying to deliver healthcare, and the United States bombs—

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, we’re going to go to Dr. Gino Strada and get you on the telephone so we can hear you more clearly. Dr. Gino Strada, in Milan, Italy, can you talk about what it means that Doctors Without Borders will be shutting down their operation in northern Kunduz after this U.S. airstrike on the hospital that killed so many? What will it mean for the people there? What kind of access will they have to medicine?

DR. GINO STRADA: Well, this is a major problem that we still have to understand. The main issue is to ensure at the moment a sort of fast track, a fast corridor, in order for the patients and wounded—that will be wounded, because fighting is ongoing—in the northern area could reach at least Kabul or an alternative, as far as emergency is concerned, a surgical center in Panjshir, which is probably slightly closer than Kabul to Kunduz. In Afghanistan, the surgical facilities are very, very poor and very few. So, the risk is that the entire areas remain unserved. We will try our best to make sure that ambulance services will be available to guarantee a safe and quick referral of the patients to the surgical facilities.

AMY GOODMAN: How does this compare to what you have faced with Emergency, Dr. Gino Strada? And also, congratulations on the announcement that you have just won the Right Livelihood Award.

DR. GINO STRADA: Well, thank you for—yeah, we are quite proud of this award, because I think it’s a good recognition for the tremendous work that Emergency has been doing in the past 22 years in favor of the victims of war, particularly in Afghanistan, where we have one of the largest programs with three surgical centers, one maternity center and 54 clinics and first-aid posts scattered throughout the country. It’s an important recognition. We are very happy. We’ll try to have our program in Afghanistan expanding even further.

One of the main questions now is how to ensure the delivery of the humanitarian assistance. What we have seen in the past years is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to guarantee that wounded people or sick people could safely reach hospitals. Whenever there is an ongoing fighting, normally militaries from all parties are preventing the evacuation of the wounded. And this is also, by itself, a war crime, although on a smaller scale. But preventing wounded people from being evacuated and looked after is definitely a crime. And this is done every day. And there’s no investigation ongoing. It’s quietly accepted by everybody that wounded patients have no rights. And we know very well that more than 90 percent of these patients are civilians, are people who have never had a weapon in their hands, who did not take part into the hostilities. And this is the social tragedy of that country.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, just back from Afghanistan, what does this say about the reliability of drone surveillance and U.S. intelligence overall?

KATHY KELLY: Well, given that the coordinates of the hospital had been made very clear to the Afghan military, the United States military, in the months leading up to this critical weekend, also this past week, it certainly is clear that the United States knew, had the intelligence, knew that it was bombing a hospital, and decided to go ahead with the attack anyway. The drone flights certainly frighten people, and airstrikes like this frighten people, and they don’t know where to turn for protection, particularly in the rural areas. And, of course, now without a hospital in that region, they won’t know where to turn for any kind of healthcare.

But, you know, the United States is pouring enormous resources into drone surveillance, constant surveillance, that’s supposed to establish patterns of life in Afghanistan. But far better if the United States people would understand the hunger and the lack of healthcare, the disease that plagues people in Afghanistan. And that’s the kind of intelligence, that’s the sort of literacy about the consequences of our wars, which people don’t have.

AMY GOODMAN: Gino Strada, Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, says they treat all people, without discrimination, whether it’s Taliban, whether it’s Afghan civilians, whether it would be U.S. injured. Do you think that is part of the reason this hospital might have been attacked, if there were Taliban in the hospital?

DR. GINO STRADA: Well, this could be one of the—I will use the term “excuses,” not “reasons.” We had a similar experience four or five years ago with our hospital in the Helmand province, where we made public that more than 40 percent of the victims that we were treating, war victims, in our hospital were children, and they were all injured by the bombing of the coalition around the villages of the Helmand region. And then, all of a sudden, we found that some of our staff was arrested, that Afghan security forces and U.K. security forces entered our hospital in Helmand, and, surprisingly, they found two or three pistols in the pharmacy store in the hospital. Probably they put them there six hours before. It was another excuse, because nobody once witnessed this, of these continuous and repeated crimes against the Afghan people that is going on since years and years. And so, it’s not surprising that someone might have been disturbed by this situation, and therefore they found an excuse to continue the killing.

AMY GOODMAN: As The New York Times put it, Doctors Without Borders issued this sharp statement saying they were disgusted by statements of Afghan authorities trying to justify the strike on the hospital. The group’s general director, Christopher Stokes, what we quoted at the beginning: “These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present,” said the head of Doctors Without Borders. Gino Strada?

DR. GINO STRADA: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. You know, I think that everybody who is trying to help the wounded in Afghanistan is facing the same problem. Wounded are not all the same. Someone believes that some of the wounded do not deserve any right because they are their enemies. But doctors have no enemies. We are not involved in Afghan politics. We are not taking sides. We are just trying to look after sick and wounded people. And this creates a lot of difficulties for all the militaries involved in this situation.

There is a solution. Well, I think so. The only solution is to understand that war and violence take you nowhere. We are completely in agreement with a statement from great human beings, such as Albert Einstein, who quoted, you know, that war can only be abolished, cannot be humanized. And that’s the reality. Every time we have to prove that this statement from Einstein was the solution of the problem. We should abandon war. We should try to think and solve our problems in a different way, excluding violence and war. And this is very difficult to accept for someone and has very dramatic consequences also for health personnel who are trying to help in war zones and difficult situations. There is no respect, no more respect for anybody. Doctors, nurses, they are all enemies.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank—I want to thank you all for being with us, Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, speaking to us from Milan, Italy; Dr. Hakim of Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul, Afghanistan; and Kathy Kelly with Voices for Creative Nonviolence, just back from Afghanistan. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

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