Inside the MSF Hospital in Kunduz

FP's Rebecca Frankel and Dan De Luce talk to photojournalist Andrew Quilty about what it was like covering the aftermath of the tragic U.S. airstrike on the ground in Afghanistan.


Exactly one week after a U.S. airstrike destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) trauma center in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 22 people — 12 MSF staffers and three children among them — photographer Andrew Quilty made the trip from Kabul to document the scene while on assignment for Foreign Policy.

Although he was embedded with the Afghan National Army’s 2nd Brigade, Quilty didn’t have an easy time getting to the MSF compound in the city of Kunduz. Fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban had intensified that week, erupting on and off in the area around the hospital. Finally, on Oct. 10, exactly one week after the airstrike, Quilty was able to arrange transport to the compound during a lull in the fighting. He was the first journalist to gain entry into the MSF hospital.

As Quilty wrote in the first of his dispatches from Afghanistan, the hospital had been devastated:

“Throughout the building, on all visible surfaces, there were wild and sporadic arcs of bullet holes. In other places, larger rounds had penetrated straight through the walls, leaving gaps some 2 feet wide in the solid brick.… Contained within the high compound walls, the smell of rot permeated from the main central building. Inside, masses of flies hummed over charred human remains.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Dan De Luce was reporting on the story from inside the Beltway. The airstrike was an obviously grievous mistake but also potentially a war crime. But from the morning after the airstrike, explanations for what exactly had gone wrong bounced back and forth between the Afghan government and the United States, and accounts of what had transpired changed rapidly. De Luce, a veteran Pentagon reporter, started to feed information back to Quilty, helping him make sense of the days-old carnage he’d discovered at the hospital. In the following days, as each continued his own reporting — speaking to officials, survivors, and relatives of those killed in the attack — a narrative began to emerge.

Listen as FP Deputy Editor Rebecca Frankel talks to Quilty and De Luce about what they discovered on the ground, what they pieced together afterward, and how they reported the complicated and still unraveling story about what happened at the MSF hospital in Kunduz.

About the participants:

Andrew Quilty is a freelance photojournalist based in Kabul. His photography has been featured in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian, among others. In 2014, he was named the Nikon-Walkley Photographer of the Year. Most recently, in 2015, Quilty was named the Walkley Best Freelance Journalist of the Year. Follow him on Instagram: @andrewquilty.

Dan De Luce is chief national security correspondent at Foreign Policy. He previously worked as a reporter for Agence France-Presse, where he spent six years as the Pentagon correspondent. Prior to that, De Luce wrote for the Guardian from Tehran, until he was expelled by the regime in 2004. He reported on the wars in former Yugoslavia for Reuters from 1993-1995 and worked as Sarajevo bureau chief after the conflict. Follow him on Twitter: @dandeluce.

Rebecca Frankel is deputy editor at Foreign Policy. She is the author of War Dogs: Tales of Heroism, History, and Love, a New York Times bestselling book about canines in combat, the subject of her Friday column “Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week,” featured on The Best Defense blog. Follow her on Twitter: @becksfrankel.

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