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Afghan Government Is Relatively Silent On Airstrike That Hit Hospital


Let's go to Afghanistan to get a sense of the fallout from that catastrophic bombing of a hospital in the city of Kunduz over the weekend. An apparent U.S. airstrike on the hospital run by Doctors without Borders left 22 dead, including patients and staff of that international group, also known as MSF. The hospital is in an area that was in the thick of heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters.

Ted Callahan is a Western security adviser long based in northern Afghanistan. He and his staff recently fled the area as the Taliban approached, and we reached him in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif about a hundred miles west of Kunduz.

Thank you very much for joining us.

TED CALLAHAN: Thank you very much, Renee. It's a pleasure to be on the show.

MONTAGNE: Now, what are you hearing from the people that you know who are still in Kunduz?

CALLAHAN: Right now in Kunduz, I would say about 90 percent of the city center has been retaken by the Afghan Security Forces. But there are clashes reported to be ongoing somewhat to the west of the city center towards other areas that are controlled by the Taliban outside of the main city.

MONTAGNE: So Afghan security is beginning to take over the city. And there are various stories about the bombing. It will be under investigation as to exactly how it happened and by whom. Who do you hear people blaming?

CALLAHAN: Well, right now the picture of what occurred is still pretty muddled. You have conflicting reports essentially whether Taliban fighters were inside the MSF compound. So some of the reports that I heard were that Taliban fighters were in the south side of the MSF compound from which they were firing on Afghan special forces, who then called in for close air support, and that's what resulted in the strike against the hospital itself.

MONTAGNE: You know, during the time of President Karzai, the government itself would've excoriated the United States for this possible attack. We're not clear on all the details. That doesn't seem to be happening under this new president, this government.

CALLAHAN: I think you can chalk it up to at least two reasons. One is Afghan concern about maintaining continued international support. So they don't want to take advantage of this and risk long-term support. Secondly is it just speaks to the fear that is ongoing in Kunduz and other parts of the north, that if they do criticize them that these strikes might not occur in the future in other places, and you'll see a further deterioration of security.

MONTAGNE: In other words, they want all the help they can get.

CALLAHAN: Exactly.

MONTAGNE: Well, this is a region you know very well. How would you describe the foothold that the Taliban has up there in northern Afghanistan, which is not a surprise to people who have been there and observed it over these last few years? But I think it's a surprise in the sense that northern Afghanistan was never previously a Taliban stronghold.

CALLAHAN: Not since 2001. But it's worth remembering that Kunduz was the last major city in the north to be retaken from the Taliban in 2001. So for the Taliban, it has both strategic and symbolic resonance. And so we've seen a very steady progression of Taliban control and influence throughout Kunduz province, which just, I think, you could view the most recent overrunning of Kunduz city as the culmination of that process and one that's likely to repeat itself in the near future.

MONTAGNE: Meaning what, there's a long fight ahead?

CALLAHAN: Exactly because the Taliban control everything, at least to the west and to the southwest of Kunduz city. And we're talking about on the order of a mile, a mile and a half from the actual city borders itself, and that's where a lot of the fighting I mentioned earlier is occurring right now.

MONTAGNE: Ted Callahan is a former adviser to special operations forces in Afghanistan. We reached him in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Thank you for joining us.

CALLAHAN: Thank you very much, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.