U.S. troops stormed Afghan hospital, aid group says

CNN, Sept. 7, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S. soldiers searched a hospital in central Afghanistan for Taliban fighters, tying up hospital guards and entering women's wards in violation of local customs, an aid worker said Monday.

The soldiers raided the hospital Wednesday night in Wardak province, said Anders Fange, the country director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan.

The troops, from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, said they were looking for suspected Taliban fighters in the hospital, he said.

They 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, according to the aid worker. He said the actions were disrespectful of Afghan culture.

He called the incident "simply not acceptable."

"It is not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict, but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement between NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and ISAF," he said, referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

In a statement, the ISAF said it met Monday with staff at the medical clinic "to discuss the force's relationship with the clinic."

"Afghan National Police and International Security Assistance Forces entered the clinic on September 2, acting on a report that an insurgent commander was being treated on the premises," the statement said.

Assisted by ISAF troops, Afghan police searched the clinic to determine if the insurgent leader, who was suspected of being responsible for an earlier attack on a convoy in the area, was present, according to the statement. The ISAF said it informed the clinic staff of its reasons for entering the hospital.

Earlier, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, an ISAF spokeswoman, said the matter was under investigation. Any operation in the area would have been Afghan-led, supported by ISAF forces, she added. The U.S. Army does operate in the area.

The Swedish aid group reported the matter to Afghanistan's public health minister, who in turn was to take up the matter with the U.S. ambassador, Fange said.

The U.S. Embassy said it had heard of the allegations and was checking to see if the Ministry of Public Health had lodged a complaint or discussed the matter with American officials.

Fange said he is trying to arrange a meeting with a senior U.S. commander in Wardak province.

The Afghan Ministry of Public Health subcontracts aid groups in Afghanistan to provide what's called "Basic Package Health Services."

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan is responsible for Wardak province. The staff at the hospital work directly for the committee.

CNN's Ingrid Formanek and Wahid Mayar contributed to this report.

International military violently entered SCA Hospital in Wardak
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, PRESS RELEASE, Kabul, September 6, 2009

On Wednesday evening September 2 at 10 pm coalition vehicles drove up at SCA’s Hospital in Shaniz, Wardak province along the main highway from Kabul to Ghazni. They entered the hospital compound, reportedly without giving any reason or justification for entering the hospital compound. They searched all rooms, even bathrooms, male and female wards. Rooms that were locked were forcefully entered and the doors of the malnutrition ward and the ultrasound ward were broken by force to gain entry. Upon entering the hospital they tied up four employees and two family members of patients at the hospital. SCA staffs as well as patients (even those in beds) were forced out of rooms/wards throughout the search.

On leaving the hospital at around 12 pm, IMF issued verbal "orders"/instructions; that on receiving any patient that could be an insurgent the hospital staff has to report to the Coalition Forces who would then determine if the hospital would be permitted or not of treating such patient.

“This is simply not acceptable. It is not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement between NGOs and ISAF. We demand guarantees from the IMF command that such violations will not be repeated and that this is made clear to commanders in the field. SCA can not and will not tolerate this kind of treatment by the IMF. Nor is the SCA bound by any orders from IMF regarding to whom treatment can be given” says Anders Fange, Country Director, SCA.

The hospital is located in an area where community acceptance is essential to the continued functioning and safety of the hospital and its staff. The hospital has faced a further intrusion on 13 July, when private security guards escorting a convoy came under attack from insurgents and sought shelter/treatment in a very aggressive manner in the hospital and proceeded to assault staff and damage property.

This latest incident comes at a time when a clinic in Paktika was attacked on 26 August by ANSF/IMF following reports of an alleged AOG commander inside. At issue, in addition to the safety of staff and patients, are perceptions amongst all parties as to the status of clearly marked hospital/medical facilities. When such facilities are no longer regarded with the sanctity which has previously been accorded, then hospitals merely become buildings and a legitimate arena to continue the conflict. Such intrusions have previously been recorded by both sides in the conflict.

For more information please contact:

Anders Fänge
Country Director SCA
+93-(0)700-299 288

Dr. Shams
Coordinator Health Technical Unit
+93-(0)700-395 401

Information Unit
+93-(0)700-078 103

Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, Main Jalalabad Road, Paktia Kot. Behind UNO Printing Press.
Kabul, Afghanistan. PO Box 5017

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