Sept 29: After a months-long siege, Taliban forces seize the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz in one of the group’s biggest territorial gains since the American invasion of 2001
Sept. 30: American troops from the 3rd Special Operations Group rush to Kunduz to join Afghan forces trying to retake the city
Sept. 29-Oct. 1: The Doctors Without Borders hospital in the city, inundated with wounded patients, is treating both Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters. Army and Special Operations analysts view and comment on intelligence reports that the hospital is being used as a Taliban command and control center and that there may be heavy weapons inside. Requests for overhead imagery and other intelligence gathering are made. Analysts are tracking what they believe is a Pakistani intelligence operative working with the Taliban, and they note his location in the hospital.
Oct. 1: Carter Malkasian, a Pentagon adviser with long experience in Afghanistan, emails Doctors Without Borders to ask whether the hospital had a large number of Taliban “holed up,” and whether the staff was safe. The group’s officials say they assured him they were in control of the facility and no armed Taliban were present.
Oct. 2: A senior officer in 3rd Group discusses the hospital in the daily report of his activities. He mentions that Doctors Without Borders has been in touch with the US military in Kabul and says the hospital is functioning. He also notes that it is under Taliban control, without explaining what he means or the source of that information. One of his goals for the next day, he writes, is to clear the hospital of enemy forces.
Oct. 2, night: About 35 U.S. soldiers from 3rd Group, fighting with about 100 Afghan special forces, retake the provincial governor’s compound, about a half mile from the hospital. But they come under relentless attack from waves of Taliban fighters. They call in an AC-130 gunship, seeking to destroy Taliban command centers around the city and disrupt the counterattack. According to Doctors Without Borders, it’s a quiet night in the hospital compound, and no armed men are present.
Oct. 3, early morning: Afghan forces request an air attack on the hospital, and the U.S. agrees. A propeller-driven AC-130 gunship, equipped with machine guns, rockets and cannons, fires on the main building for an hour, making a number of passes. Doctors and nurses are killed, immobile patients burn in their beds. At least 30 people are killed, Doctors Without Borders says.
Oct. 3, 2.59 a.m.: After Doctors Without Borders had been frantically calling and texting its U.S. contacts to halt the strike, the group receives a text message from the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan: “I’ll do my best, praying for you all.”
Oct. 6: Gen. John Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that American forces “provided close air support to Afghan forces at their request. To be clear, the decision to provide aerial flyers was a U.S. decision made within the U.S. chain of command. … A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.”
Sources: AP reporting, Doctors Without Borders, the Pentagon