Sorting Out the Kunduz Massacre

According to, which is “the largest military and veteran membership organization — 10 million members strong” and is 16 years old, “An Air Force AC-130 Special Operations Command gunship may have carried out the strike in Afghanistan that allegedly hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the embattled northern city of Kunduz, killing at least 22, including 12 staffers.” (The death toll is expected to rise, according to other reports.) The attack lasted 60 to 75 minutes, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF): “…[MSF] has said that the air attack was sustained for more than an hour, from 2:08 a.m. to 3:15 a.m. Saturday local time.”

“The MSF officials said that the attack continued despite pleas to the U.S. military to call it off and despite having previously made known the hospital’s GPS coordinates.”

This aircraft is a “bomb truck” equipped with “advanced communications system, including the latest video and information datalinks,…tied to a series of missionized control stations mounted inside the AC-130W’s spacious cargo hold.” The arsenal: “The Stinger’s real sting comes from its ability to lob GBU-176 ‘Griffin’ air-to-ground missiles, or GBU-44 ‘Viper Strike’ munitions off of its rear ramp. This simple but effective rear ramp arsenal configuration is affectionately called ‘Gunslinger.’ Ten of the low-yield Griffins or Viper Strikes can be carried in the cradle mounted on the ramp at any given time, although there is room for more to be stowed in the AC-130’s hold until needed. Then there are the aircraft’s outboard wing pylons. This is where the AC-130W really deviates from its predecessors, it carries AGM-114 Hellfire missiles (like the Marine’s KC-130J Harvest Hawk) and guided bombs — the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb to be exact.”

What U.S. forces in Afghanistan use these gunships and how do they use them?

“There is a reason why Special Forces, Delta, and other government agencies — like the CIA — use AC-130 gunships more than anyone else: their missions are mainly direct action with short goals, during the night. The Vietnam-era aircraft is the premier platform for surgical close air support of special operations forces on the ground. Or, as one special operations combat controller who asked that his name not be used, told me during one mission in Afghanistan: ‘AC-130s are really good at tracking ground movements and increasing situational awareness. That means: you can kill shit faster, with less risk to friendlies.'”

The Kunduz Massacre was not a matter of “less risk to friendlies”. It was a matter of ignoring friendlies altogether. It was a matter of specifically targeting friendlies. If there was “situational awareness”, then the bombing was instigated by murderers. There is no reason at this time to assume that situational awareness was absent. Indeed, given the communications from MSF that included precise locations, given the length of the attack and its targets, and given the fact that the AC-130 was used, we have to assume that situational awareness was present. This implies that the attack was intentional.

Possible contributing factors that led to the decision to bomb the hospital: (1) frustration with the battlefield success by the Taliban in taking Kunduz; (2) frustration and resentment with the role of Doctors Without Borders in treating all comers; (3) frustration of a possible sanctuary for Taliban fighters; (4) desire to score (fight) and get revenge; (5) desire to send a message to the Taliban, no matter what the costs were to “friendlies”. To these possibly subterranean motivations must be added the possibility of sheer incompetence.

Somewhere along the line, some person or persons on the American side made this decision. The morale of the special forces has been adversely affected of late dues to restraints in fighting:

“In recent months, the Army has disciplined, admonished and ended the careers of a number of Green Berets for actions that the soldiers themselves believe were part of combating an evil enemy. Pristine standards for fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda are not achievable, some in the community say.”

Breaking free to fight and bomb the “enemy” in a battle, even if it means destroying friendlies, is a motivation that melds with the six possible contributing motivations posited above. Special forces do not like to lose. They do not like to look like a force with inferior arms is beating them.

At this time, I think that no matter what the emotional elements were that conditioned the decision, the persons doing it knew what they were doing. I believe they knew right from wrong according to the rules of engagement. But they glossed over them or ignored them or bent them. But this suspicion is only a suspicion.

However, I am the first to say that I do not know, and this is why we need an investigation that looks at the details of what happened, and these should be readily available. No one calls in an AC-130 gunship attack like this without there being a known chain of command.

Any hesitation at providing these details or resisting an independent investigation should be taken as cover up. If in fact there was a confluence of factors, such as a breakdown of communications, as opposed to an intentional judgment, if in fact what I now suspect happened is wrong, let’s hear about it.


2:43 pm on October 8, 2015