January 11, 2002

Bombing the Red Cross

by Doug Pritchard

In responding to claims that its bombs have killed Afghan civilians, the US government has consistently said that the claims were wrong, exaggerated or could not be verified. However the US has admitted bombing the Red Cross warehouses in Kabul--twice.

The International Committee of the Red Cross had stored hundreds of tons of relief supplies in eight warehouses in a government compound on the western outskirts of the city. Each warehouse measured 50m by 100m. The site was clearly marked by a 3m by 3m Red Cross flag. The Red Cross had also informed the US embassy of the location of their warehouses.

In the early days of the war, US planes dropped 2,000 lb JDAM bombs on the warehouses and damaged several of them. The Red Cross protested and put a larger 9m by 9m flag on the site. US bombers came a second time and destroyed the rest of the Red Cross warehouses.

The CPT delegation currently in Afghanistan visited the site of the bombed warehouses on January 8, 2002. The armed guards at the entrance to the deserted compound readily took the delegation through the site and did not restrict photography. Despite the language barrier, the guards confirmed, "Bombing. Red Cross. Karap [destroyed.]" The CPTers saw substantial brick buildings reduced to rubble. Pieces of twisted metal roofing were scattered around the compound like autumn leaves. Trucks had been flipped over and tossed about like match-box toys around a 10m wide crater in the middle of one warehouse. Three of the warehouses had burned to the ground. leaving only a tangle of twisted steel girders.

In response to worldwide outrage, the US government apologized to the Red Cross for this destruction. It is the only time in this war that the US has admitted and apologized for the destruction of civilian targets. Even as it did so, the Pentagon continued to insist that the warehouses were a legitimate military target.

The new interim government in Afghanistan has asked the Red Cross to rebuild its warehouses in order to continue the distribution of urgently-needed relief supplies. The Red Cross has referred them to those who destroyed the warehouses. So far, no response.