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Doctors Without Borders hospital breached by “wheeled military vehicle”

The burned Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after the complex in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz was bombed on Oct. 3. (Médecins Sans Frontières via AP)

Last week U.S. and Afghan forces forced their way with a “wheeled military vehicle” through a locked gate at the Doctors Without Borders hospital that was bombarded earlier this month by a U.S. aircraft in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

According to Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Roger Cabiness, U.S. and Afghan forces thought that no Doctors Without Borders personnel were present and entered the compound on Oct 15 to conduct a “structural integrity inspection” of the building.

[By evening, a hospital. By morning, a war zone.]

“This was a follow-up to the Casualty Assessment Team’s visit regarding the 3 Oct incident and was intended as an assessment to ascertain whether or not the structure could be rebuilt,” Cabiness wrote in a Monday email.

Doctors Without Borders said there were in fact personnel from the medical humanitarian group present. According to a statement posted to the group’s Web site, the Oct. 15 unannounced forced entry “damaged the gate to the property, potentially destroyed evidence, and caused stress and fear for the MSF team that had arrived earlier in the day to visit the hospital.”

Cabiness also clarified that vehicle used to enter the compound was not a tank as had been previously reported. The vehicle, most likely, was an armored personnel carrier being used to ferry the investigators to the scene of the strike. According to the Pentagon, the United States has no tanks in Afghanistan.

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

In early hours of Oct 3, a U.S. Air Force AC-130U gunship strafed the hospital for more than hour, delivering extensive damage to the hospital and starting a large fire that spread throughout the structure. It is unclear if the aircrew knew that the building was a hospital before it opened fire, however Doctors Without Borders has claimed repeatedly that they had delivered the building’s coordinates to U.S. officials.

The attack killed 22, including 10 patients and 12 staff member. While dozens more were wounded, Doctors Without Borders has still not released the names of those injured or killed in the attack. However, the group has said that the strike amounts to a war crime and has called for an independent investigation. The U.S. government is currently conducting an investigation of its own and has pledged to cooperate and coordinate future visits to the hospital with Doctors Without Borders.

Prior to the strike, the area around the hospital had been contested between Afghan forces and Taliban fighters. According to U.S. officials, Afghan forces requested the airstrike which was subsequently authorized by U.S. Special Operations Forces operating on the outskirts of Kunduz.

According to the Pentagon, the initial “casualty assessment team investigation” will be released sometime this week.