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‘I’m praying for you all.’ Doctors Without Borders releases messages with U.S. military on night of bombing

The burned Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after explosions in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. (Médecins Sans Frontières via AP)

After nearly an hour of bombing on its hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz, a Doctors Without Borders representative in Kabul received a text message from a U.S. military official in response to the group’s pleas to stop the attack: “I’ll do my best,” said the text message from the American, who was also in Kabul. “Praying for you all.”

The 2:59 a.m. message is included in a log released by Doctors Without Borders on Thursday in a report on the Oct. 3 bombing of its Kunduz medical facility by the U.S. military. The first bombs from a U.S. AC-130 gunship fell between 2 a.m. and 2:08 a.m., prompting a flurry of calls from the medical organization, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières Global (MSF), for the airstrikes to stop.

[Pentagon faces question: Should it make condolence payments for Taliban killed in hospital bombing?]

The report was released by MSF to be transparent and counter speculation that the hospital was being used as a Taliban military base, the medical organization said. The hospital was treating Afghan civilians, Taliban fighters and civilians the night of the airstrikes, it said.

The bombing came as the U.S. and Afghan militaries fought to take back the city of Kunduz, which had fallen to the Taliban a few days before. Some 30 medical staff members and patients were killed, with some burned beyond recognition.

“The question remains as to whether our hospital lost protected status in the eyes of the military forces engaged in this attack — and if so, why,” said Joanne Liu, MSF’s international president, in a letter included with the report. “This answer does not lie within the MSF hospital. Those responsible for requesting, ordering and approving the airstrikes hold these answers.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said Thursday that MSF shared its report with the military ahead of releasing it. Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, also met with MSF leaders in Afghanistan on Wednesday, Davis added.

“We continue to work closely with MSF in identifying the victims killed and wounded so we can conclude our investigations and proceed with follow-on actions, to include condolence payments. We’re also committed to working with MSF to determine the full extent of the damage on the hospital so that it can be repaired in full.”

MSF began making calls about the airstrikes, which remain under investigation by the U.S. military, no more than 11 minutes after the first airstrikes hit the hospital, the report said. At 2:19 a.m., an MSF official called the top U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan to say that the hospital had been hit with an airstrike, but the bombs continued to fall.

[In northern Afghanistan, a mix of Taliban, foreign fighters and soldiers spread thin]

MSF followed up with a 2:20 a.m. phone call to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and calls at 2:32 a.m. to a Defense Department official in Washington and a United Nations liaison in Afghanistan, the report said. As the airstrikes continued, a military official at the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul apologized in a text message at 2:52 a.m.

“I’m sorry to hear that, I still do not know what happened,” the text message said, according to the MSF report.

The message exchange as it appears in the report follows. Resolute Support is shorthand for the headquarters by the same name, which leads U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and is near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. OCHA CivMil is short for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ civil-military liaison in Afghanistan.

The humanitarian group assured the U.S. military its hospital in northern Afghanistan was not under Taliban threat just days before a deadly airstrike on the compound last month, the organization said Thursday.

The group continued to push for an independent investigation into one of the deadliest civilian casualty incidents stemming from a coalition action in the Afghan conflict. The U.S. military and others are currently conducting parallel reviews into the chain of events leading to the more than hour-long attack.

Campbell told The Washington Post in an interview in Kabul on Friday that the military is obligated by law to do what is known in military parlance as a 15-6 investigation, after the Army regulation that lays out the rules for investigating officers. He expects to have the initial results of that soon, but declined to be more specific with a time table.

Campbell added that he does not want to comment on the specifics of what happened that night until the investigation is complete, citing a desire to uphold its integrity.

“I want to make sure we get it right the first time,” Campbell said. “I will be very open and transparent with everything I can be to make sure we learn from that and that we tell the world what happened and why it happened.”

MSF has called for an international fact-finding commission to review the case, but Campbell said that is “never, ever done” in circumstances like this. But he acknowledged that after the 15-6 investigation there will may be a need to “see where it goes from there.”

“My responsibility under international law is to do the 15-6,” Campbell said. “And we’re doing that.”

Campbell told the House Armed Services Committee on Oct. 8 that he expected to have the results of the investigation in about 30 days.

This story has been updated to include more comments and context from Campbell’s interview with The Post.

Report on hospital attack details Doctors Without Borders’ pleas for help

In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 photo, an employee of Doctors Without Borders walks inside the charred remains of their hospital after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Christopher Stokes, general director of Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by its French abbreviation MSF, whose hospital in northern Afghanistan was destroyed in a U.S. airstrike, says the “extensive, quite precise destruction” of the bombing raid casts doubt on American military assertions that it was a mistake. (Najim Rahim via AP)

Related stories:
Aid group: U.S. military was told of no threats at hospital before Kunduz airstrikes

The Pentagon’s evolving response to the Afghan hospital attack

Top U.S. general in Afghanistan: Hospital ‘mistakenly struck’