How much is an Afghan life worth? Judging from what the United States has offered victims of its targeted air raid on a Kunduz hospital, which reduced the building to ashes and still hasn’t been fully explained: $6,000.
Relatives of victims of the attack revealed details of the Pentagon’s compensation package to the Associated Press, the latest epilogue to the Oct. 3 bombing at a Doctors Without Borders hospital that killed 42 Afghans. The clinic employed mostly local staff. Those wounded will receive $3,000.
Guilhem Molinie, a spokesman for the organization, known by its French acronym MSF, in Afghanistan, it called the amount “ridiculous” and referred to the payments as “sorry money.” For many of the families, their dead loved ones were their only source of wages.
The Land of Endless War is still trying to negotiate a meeting between the government and the Taliban, but on Saturday two attacks by guerrillas (one in Kabul and the other in eastern Kunar Province) killed at least 20 people, mostly civilians. The attacks make the negotiations — brokered by a “quadrilateral” commission of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China — even more uphill.
The story of Kunduz and the MSF hospital bombing is one of the darkest chapters for Afghanistan and the U.S. military, which has responded with half-admissions, apologies and reticence, and was flogged by a recent United Nations report. As far as we know, the Americans — who have said Afghan troops called in the air strike — will make payments for the entire hospital staff, more than 140 families. Fourteen hospital staff were killed, 24 patients and 14 other civilians.
But the victims say that the figure is inappropriate and offensive — especially considering other civilian victims of U.S. war crimes have been paid up to $50,000 per victim. And they’re not only questioning the money. According to the AP, a joint U.S.-NATO document shows that an AC-130 bomber dropped 211 shells over the course of 30 minutes before fighters realized the mistake. The document also reports that, contrary to initial claims by military authorities in Kabul, there was no evidence that Taliban guerrillas had stormed the hospital prior to the attack. The raid indeed should have hit another building, within walking distance: a tragic “error.”
The United States has conducted an investigation of its own, a 3,000-page report that has not been made public. MSF has pushed for an independent commission to shed light on the matter, but nothing has happened because protocols require approval from Washington and Kabul first.
With regard to the Taliban-Kabul negotiations, a plan coordinated primarily through Pakistan with consent from the three other parties provides for a first meeting in early March. The Pakistanis have invited every faction of the insurgency, but skepticism reigns because the Taliban are utterly divided.
The current chief, Mullah Mansour, is in contact with Islamabad, but the Taliban’s political office in Doha, opened years ago to facilitate diplomacy, claims not to have been consulted. It is known that Mansour enjoys support from only part of the movement.
Former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who controls the guerrilla faction Hezb-e Islami (which also has a “legal” arm in parliament), has not yet signed on to peace talks. There are myriad other groups in turbans — not to mention the Islamic State — who have not responded and will almost certainly boycott any process.
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