Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders won’t take Pen­tagon’s money

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders is say­ing no thanks to a Pen­tagon of­fer to pay for re­build­ing its trauma cen­ter de­stroyed by a U.S. AC-130 gun­ship on Oct. 3, killing 30 pa­tients and staff.

A group spokes­woman told The Wash­ing­ton Times on Sun­day that the non­profit, also known as Medecins Sans Fron­tieres (MSF), has made it a prac­tice not to ac­cept gov­ern­ment money in Afghanistan and will con­tinue that pol­icy.

Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders’ gen­eral di­rec­tor, Christopher Stokes, last week all but ac­cused the U.S. of de­lib­er­ately tar­get­ing the hos­pi­tal, based on the fact that it re­peat­edly made the Pen­tagon, the NATO com­mand in Kabul and the Afghan gov­ern­ment aware that it was op­er­at­ing a hos­pi­tal in Kun­duz’s mean streets. The Amer­i­can com­man­der in Kabul has called the strike a “mis­take.”

“All the in­for­ma­tion that we pro­vided so far shows that a mis­take is quite hard to understand and be­lieve at this stage,” Mr. Stokes said.

The U.S. mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to in­ves­ti­gate the as­sault, which hap­pened amid a fierce bat­tle for con­trol of Kun­duz in north­ern Afghanistan. Much of the post­tragedy de­bate has cen­tered on the num­ber of Tal­iban pa­tients in­side the hos­pi­tal and whether any of them used it as a base of oper­a­tions.

Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders re­leased its own find­ings last week cat­e­gor­i­cally deny­ing that any com­bat­ant, the Tal­iban or the gov­ern­ment’s, was armed in­side the com­pound.

On at least two oc­ca­sions, Pen­tagon rep­re­sen­ta­tives have reached out to Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders with a prom­ise to pay for re­build­ing.

Last month, Pen­tagon press sec­re­tary Peter Cook said that, un­der a flex­i­ble cash ac­count known as the Com­man­der’s Emer­gency Re­sponse Pro­gram, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan “has the author­ity to make con­do­lence pay­ments and pay­ments to­ward re­pair of the hos­pi­tal. USFOR-A will work with those af­fected to de­ter­mine ap­pro­pri­ate pay­ments.”

He said the Pen­tagon also can ask Congress to au­tho­rize fund­ing.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders re­port last week, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, di­rec­tor of Pen­tagon press oper­a­tions, said: “We con­tinue to work closely with MSF in iden­ti­fy­ing the vic­tims, both those killed and wounded, so that we can con­clude our in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pro­ceed with fol­low-on ac­tions to in­clude con­do­lence pay­ments. We are also com­mit­ted to work­ing with MSF to de­ter­mine the full ex­tent of the dam­age to the hos­pi­tal, so that it can be re­paired in full.”

But Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders rep­re­sen­ta­tives said that to ac­cept Pen­tagon money would jeop­ar­dize the hu­man­i­tar­ian group’s in­de­pen­dence and neu­tral­ity.

Asked about the fund­ing of­fer, Tim Shenk, a Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders spokesman, said: “Re­gard­ing the Depart­ment of De­fense state­ment on fund­ing, our stated pol­icy is to not ac­cept money from bel­liger­ents in con­flict set­tings, which in­clude the U.S. in Afghanistan.”

San­dra Murillo, a Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders spokes­woman in New York, said: “MSF’s long-stand­ing pol­icy is to not ac­cept fund­ing from any gov­ern­ments for its work in Afghanistan and other con­flicts around the world. This pol­icy al­lows us to work in­de­pen­dently with­out tak­ing sides and pro­vide med­i­cal care to any­one who needs it. This will not change.”

Asked whether Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders will re­build at the Kun­duz site, Ms. Murillo said, “Un­til we understand what hap­pened and we have some as­sur­ances that this un­ac­cept­able at­tack can­not hap­pen again, we can­not re­open our Kun­duz Trauma Cen­ter and put our staff in dan­ger.”

The group’s motto is “Med­i­cal aid where it is needed most. In­de­pen­dent. Neu­tral. Im­par­tial.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Amer­i­can sol­diers ex­am­ine the charred re­mains of the Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders hos­pi­tal in Kun­duz, Afghanistan, that was hit by a U.S. AC-130 gun­ship last month.

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