Afghan Lawmaker Blasts U.S. for Firing on Clinic Where Taliban Commander Took Refuge

By Amir Shah | August 28, 2009 | 4:57 AM EDT
Kabul (AP) - The U.S. military's decision to use a helicopter gunship to fire on a medical clinic where an injured Taliban commander had bunkered was a violation of Islamic and international law, a parliamentarian representing the region said Friday.
The U.S. military has said its troops opened fire on the clinic only after they were fired on and had ensured there were no civilians inside. The military also said both the provincial governor and the clinic's doctor gave them permission to open fire.
After the fighting, Afghan and U.S. forces met with villagers and discussed rebuilding the clinic, a U.S. summary of the meeting said.
Wednesday's battle started after a wounded Taliban commander sought treatment at a clinic in the Sar Hawza district of eastern Paktika province. Afghan forces tipped off to his presence went to the center and got in a five-hour firefight with militants, the governor's office has said. U.S. forces later provided backup, including the helicopter.
A lawmaker representing Paktika said other options should have been more seriously considered.
"There must have been another way or tactic to use to get to him without destroying the hospital," said Khalid Faroqi, who is also from Sar Hawza district. The targeted insurgent leader was injured in the attack.
"It is an offense to shoot on a hospital like that," he said. "The international forces should have higher standards than the insurgents."
Afghanistan's health minister, however, defended the troops' actions, saying the insurgents violated the sanctity of the clinic by bringing their guns inside. He said they hid the weapons under their clothes, and that they were the first to fire. The Taliban turned the clinic into a bunker, he said, and the U.S. forces were needed to rout them out.
"The coalition forces were obliged because the police were under fire. If they hadn't come all those police would have died," said Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi. He said the clinic was almost completely destroyed, but said the military is making adequate reparations by agreeing to build a 40-bed clinic, double the size of the previous facility, which was often overcrowded.
Human rights group Amnesty International has urged NATO forces to launch a "transparent, credible" investigation into the attack, saying the military alliance may have violated international laws of war that protect wounded fighters getting medical aid.
"If the Taliban used the clinic as a shelter to fire from, they've committed a serious violation," Amnesty official Sam Zarifi said in a statement Thursday. "But if they were using the clinic for health care, NATO forces had no business firing on the clinic, even if they had cleared out civilians from the facility."
A U.S. military spokeswoman said no investigation is planned because the operation went off with all necessary consideration for civilian life and government permissions.
"The protection that sites like hospitals and clinics and mosques have ceases to be true when we're being fired on from them," said Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a U.S. military spokeswoman. She added that the helicopter was only brought in as a last resort.
"When the helicopter fired on it (the clinic), it ended the conflict. This was an ongoing battle in a compound. There's value to bringing that to a close," Sidenstricker said.
In northern Kunduz province, meanwhile, NATO and Afghan forces searching a residential compound for suspected militants were caught up in a gunbattle with insurgents.
Several militants were killed in Thursday's shootout outside Chehar Darrechi village, including a female militant who shot at NATO troops, said Capt. Jon Stock, a spokesman for the international force.
Stock declined to say exactly how many militants were killed, but he said it was fewer than 10 people. The troops found rocket-propelled grenades, along with a handful of guns and grenades in the compound.
One civilian was injured by a gunshot in the arm and taken to a military hospital, NATO said. No NATO or Afghan forces were wounded.
Also Thursday, a roadside bomb killed three police officers in eastern Laghman province, said Sayid Ahmad Safi, spokesman for the provincial governor.
The U.S. military has said its troops opened fire on the medical clinic only after they were fired on and had ensured there were no civilians inside.