At the first Congressional hearing on the fighting in Afghanistan since a U.S. plane fired on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, the top U.S. commander is in the hot seat. Gen. John Campbell is expected to face questions Tuesday about why the hospital was targeted, as the White House mulls keeping a residual force of up to 5,000 in Afghanistan beyond 2016.
Posts Tagged ‘Israel grossman’
Negotiators reached agreement on a massive trade deal this week. It sets in motion a complex political fight — one that involves federal policy, the national economy, President Obama’s legacy, and creates a backdrop for the 2016 presidential election.
Arthur McDonald of Canada and Takaaki Kajita of Japan were awarded Nobel Prize in Physics Tuesday for discovering that subatomic particles called neutrinos can switch from one kind to another. NPR has more about the win and how it could change physics in a big way.
The search continues after El Faro, a 790-foot cargo ship, sank last Thursday in Hurricane Joaquin. One body has been found, but family members and search and rescue crews remain hopeful.
The U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations reached an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Monday.
A significant increase in violence has led to the deaths of eight Israelis and Palestinians in recent days, highlighting tensions and prompting an Israeli security crackdown.
Updated at 12:55 p.m. ET
The Coast Guard says it has located several objects floating in the water near the spot in the Bahamas where a 790-foot cargo ship and its crew of 33 went missing last week after issuing a distress satellite notification amid hurricane-force winds and waves.
U.S. Coast Guard pilots searching for a third day for the El Faro — a roll-on, roll-off container ship — found life jackets, containers and an oil slick on the water.
A statement issued by the Coast Guard said that “[the] objects have not been confirmed to be from the El Faro at this time.” In an earlier statement, however, the Coast Guard said that a life ring was recovered earlier and that it verified to be from the ship.
The statement said that two HC-130 Hercules, the Cutter Northland and an MH-60 Jayhawk were involved in the search.
The El Faro, built in 1975, is variously described as 735 feet and 790 feet in length. It left Jacksonville, Fla., on Sept. 29. On Oct. 1, authorities received a satellite notification saying the vessel had lost propulsion and was listing in hurricane conditions off Crooked Island, Bahamas. The message said that the ship had been taking on water, but that all flooding had been contained.
The ship has a crew of 33, 28 of them Americans.
Smoke rises from Kunduz, Afghanistan on Thursday. Government forces have reportedly retaken the city after it was seized by the Taliban on Monday.
Taliban forces stormed the Afghan city of Kunduz on Monday; after several days of fighting, Afghan forces claimed to have retaken the city. But fighting continued, an on Saturday, a U.S.-led airstrike appears to have struck and badly damaged a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing doctors, staff members and patients.
The week of violence has put the city back in the headlines. But the region’s struggles aren’t new.
Over the past 12 years, the U.S. and NATO spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Kunduz province alone building up infrastructure, all in an effort to keep insurgents out. After U.S. combat forces left the country last year, Afghan national security forces were expected to take over the fight against insurgent groups still posing a threat.
But now that stability is threatened.
This week on For The Record: The fight to keep Kunduz. We hear from two people who were there 12 years ago and worked to stabilize the city, and who were then optimistic about the city’s future.
Matin Sarfraz, now a government worker based in Kabul
Fourteen years ago this week, U.S. forces launched air strikes in Afghanistan. Afghans like Matin Sarfraz, who was 16 at the time, grew hopeful that the Taliban would soon be defeated.
“My father was telling us that, ‘Hey guys, you’ll have schools, you’ll have work, you will have a better future,’ ” he says. “The international community came to Afghanistan. We’ll have a proper government you know? We’ll have no fighting.”
Sarfraz’s family had good reason to be optimistic: After the Taliban fell, international aid started flowing in.
The U.S.-led NATO mission set up a network of bases around the country called Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs. The Americans set up the PRT in Kunduz in 2003 and the Germans took over shortly thereafter. The teams, made up of international forces, civilian aid workers and development experts, created a lot of jobs for the young Afghan generation.
Philipp Ackermann, civilian head of the German PRT, 2006-2007
Ackermann says the northern region was relatively stable when he arrived to lead the PRT.
“We were very much in the civilian mode when we came and tried to really set up … better working institutions, [a] better working education system,” he says.
German official Philipp Ackermann gives a speech with military translator Mohamed Oda in 2006, while heading the Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Courtesy of the German Embassy
Courtesy of the German Embassy
Courtesy of the German Embassy
They built schools, government buildings, water and sanitation systems and health clinics. They even set up a radio station, where Sarfraz secured a job as a freelance reporter. It was a point of pride for both him and his family.
“Everyone was so happy to work with the internationals,” Sarfraz says.
While the east and the south of Afghanistan were active war zones, the north and Kunduz were relatively safe. The Taliban felt far away — until it wasn’t.
A Turning Point
Ackermann says when the PRT needed supplies, the staff went to the local bazaars. In May of 2007, three German soldiers were killed in an attack at a Kunduz bazaar after going in to buy a fridge.
“That was by far the saddest moment in my career in Kunduz,” he says of the attack. “That changed, of course, our regime to a certain extent. We were much more worried and concerned, and it changed a bit the mood of the population.”
A Lesson Learned: Security Vs. Development
As extremists made their way to the province from other parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ackermann started to realize infrastructure alone couldn’t keep Kunduz safe.
“We felt that when we improved on the development side, the security side would improve, and the other way around,” he says. But in reality, the opposite was true. “If security is there, you can improve on the development, but you can’t try to get security through development projects. That was a lesson we learned in spring 2007.”
After the attack in the Kunduz bazaar, German forces didn’t go out into the local communities as often. NGOs began pulling back, and international development projects were harder to get off the ground. Ackermann’s tour of duty was up a few months after the attack.
But Sarfraz didn’t have the choice to leave. Instead, he did everything he could to make a better life for his family, despite the changes in Kunduz. He studied hard, getting a master’s degree and eventually a job with the Afghan government in Kabul.
‘A Shocking Development’
But Kunduz is still Sarfraz’s home; his wife and kids still live there and he goes back often. In fact, he was in the province early Monday when Taliban forces made their advance.
“At 3 o’clock in the morning, I heard a very loud explosion, then a gunfire, so I woke up and my kids woke up and they were crying,” he says. “Then another explosion happened and another happened.”
Related NPR Stories
The next day his family hunkered down in their house while the fighting continued. Sarfraz finally made it back to Kabul for work, but his wife and children are still in Kunduz — and he’s afraid for them.
Both Sarfraz and Ackermann believed that Kunduz was exceptional — that this place, high up in the northern mountains of Afghanistan, would somehow remain insulated from the violence in other parts of the country.
“It’s a shocking development,” Ackermann says, “because it’s the first time that the Taliban really conquer a bigger city in Afghanistan, albeit only for two days, but it’s really a new scale. I am pretty sure that the Taliban are not in a position really to hold centers like this for a long time, but we have to acknowledge that they are very present and they have a very good strategy, apparently, and that’s frustrating.”
It is hard for Sarfraz to process what’s happened to his city — all the work over the past decade to build a stable Kunduz could be destroyed by the Taliban in just a few days.
“I can’t imagine if my city is back to that time when Taliban was in power in that city,” he says.
Sarfraz is desperately trying to find a way back to Kunduz to make sure his family is safe.
Three Takeaways, From NPR’s Rachel Martin
* We asked Phillip Ackerman how he thinks about the work that he and so many other Germans and Americans, civilians and military, did in Kunduz over the past 12 years. The schools, the clinics; if those projects don’t last, if Kunduz is made unstable by Taliban insurgents, does it mean his work was in vain?
He paused and told me, ‘That’s a very personal question.’ He pivoted quickly and talked about the need for an ongoing international presence in Afghanistan, but it was clear that he is having trouble reconciling all the money spent and lives lost with the reality in Kunduz right now.
* I happened to have been in Afghanistan in 2004 when Doctors Without Borders (MSF) made the announcement that the organization was pulling out after five of their staff were killed by insurgents. MSF had been working in Afghanistan for 24 years and prided itself on continuing to work in the country through years of civil war and violence. The 2004 attack changed things for the organization, and its leaders didn’t think they could afford to put their staff at risk.
It took five years for MSF to return to Afghanistan. The bombing this weekend of the MSF clinic in Kunduz killed 12 staff members — three times the number of staff killed in that 2004 attack. It’s unclear whether this tragedy will again push MSF out of Afghanistan.
* The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014. U.S. flags were lowered; there was a ceremony. But on Saturday, the Pentagon released the names of six airmen killed Friday when a C130 military plane crashed in Afghanistan. The Secretary of Defense is now calling for an investigation into the bombing of the MSF clinic that killed 19 people.
The official combat mission may be over but the war in Afghanistan is not.
Click on the audio link above to hear the full conversation.
The burned Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after explosions in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, on Saturday. Doctors Without Borders says 12 staff members and 10 patients were killed in the attack and 37 others wounded.
Updated at 3:25 p.m. ET
NATO in Afghanistan says it will lead an investigation into an airstrike in Kunduz this weekend that hit a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital, killing 22 people — an attack that the humanitarian organization, also known as Doctors Without Borders, has called “a war crime.”
A U.S.-led airstrike on the northern Afghan city was carried out on Saturday but the circumstances surrounding it remain murky. NATO acknowledges only that the raid occurred near the charity’s hospital.
As we reported yesterday, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan released a statement saying that the strike “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”
The NATO coalition says it “has directed a preliminary multi-national investigation known as a Casualty Assessment Team.” It says that an initial investigation would be complete in “a matter of days.”
“Additionally, the U.S. military has opened a formal investigation, headed by a General Officer, to conduct a thorough and comprehensive inquiry,” it said in a statement.
But MSF’s General Director Christopher Stokes, saying in a statement that the group operates “[under] the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed,” insisted that anything less than a fully independent probe of the incident would be unacceptable.
“Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient,” Stokes said.
“We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched. We condemn this attack, which constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law,” he said.
In an interview on Sunday’s Weekend All Things Considered, MSF Executive Director Jason Cone, said it has been the “darkest couple of days in our organization’s history.”
Speaking with WATC host Michel Martin, Cone reiterated Stokes’ description of the attack as “a war crime.”
“This was a known structure, and for that reason we have to presume until otherwise that this act is both a grave violation of humanitarian law, and can rise to the level of a war crime until we have an independent investigation that tells us otherwise,” he said.
Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) defines a war crime as “willful killing.” However, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says that “cases in which protected persons are killed as a result of acts of war — for example, the bombardment of a civilian hospital — are more difficult to class as [willful] killing: the question is left open.”
Answering an earlier claim by the Afghanistan’s interior minister that “terrorists” had been taking refuge in the hospital, Cone fired back:
“We do not run hospitals around the world allowing combatants to enter our facilities and militarize them,” he tells NPR. “That would be a red line for us. It puts both our patients and our staff at risk and we would never accept that under any circumstances.”
Kunduz, which briefly fell to the Taliban last week before a government counteroffensive, is reportedly experiencing a growing humanitarian crisis. Even so, MSF says it has all but abandoned its Kunduz hospital in the wake of the attack.
“All critical patients have been referred to other health facilities and no MSF staff are working in our hospital,” Kate Stegeman, the communications manager for MSF, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
“Some of our medical staff have gone to work in two hospitals where some of the wounded have been taken,” she said.
As the Afghan government struggles to retake Kunduz from the Taliban, suspected U.S. airstrikes have hit a Médecins Sans Frontières facility in the city. NPR’s Philip Reeves provides an update.