The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan has accused the US 10th Mountain Division of storming a hospital while searching for a Taliban leader. Afghan policemen with the US force allegedly “tied up four hospital guards and searched patients’ relatives, broke into the nutrition ward and ultrasound room, and searched the female ward of the hospital”. This is the second time in recent weeks ISAF forces have pursued Taliban forces into health facilities.
Late last month, a US AH-64 Apache helicopter attacked an Afghan medical clinic in Paktika while chasing Taliban fighters. A Taliban commander had entered the clinic seeking treatment. According to the ISAF: “After ensuring the clinic was cleared of civilians, an AH-64 Apache helicopter fired rounds at the building ending the direct threat and injuring the targeted insurgent in the building”. While there are no reports of health professionals killed in the US attack, the damage of the health clinic is no doubt extensive. Afghan civilians in the clinic’s catchment area will suffer over the next few weeks/months until the clinic can be returned to full operations.
These are the types of incidents where the coalition can win the battle, but lose the war. Interfering with a health facilities 1) delegitimizes coalition forces and the Afghan government; damages the health (and therefore economy) of the local population; provides propaganda material for Taliban forces; hurts the relationship between NGOs and ISAF; and turns global public opinion against the coalition. Put bluntly, attacking hospitals is bad, both for the attacker and the civilian population.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.