US forces who launched a deadly air strike on an Afghan hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had intended to attack a nearby Taliban-controlled compound, and the mistake was caused by human and technical error, according to the US forces commander.
As a US military investigation was released, Army General John Campbell told reporters in Kabul on Wednesday that the strike was a “tragic and avoidable accident, caused by human error”.
The October 3 air raid on the hospital, lasting at least 29 minutes, was carried out in the Taliban-held northern city of Kunduz.
MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said the US version of events raises more questions than it answers.
“It is shocking that an attack can be carried out when US forces have neither eyes on a target nor access to a no-strike list, and have malfunctioning communications systems,” he said.
“The frightening catalogue of errors outlined today illustrates gross negligence on the part of US forces and violations of the rules of war.
“The destruction of a protected facility without verifying the target – in this case a functioning hospital full of medical staff and patients – cannot only be dismissed as individual human error or breaches of the US rules of engagement,” he continued, adding that the group reiterates its call for an independent and impartial investigation.
At least 30 people were killed in the attack including 10 known patients and 13 known staff.
The group – which had provided the US army with coordinates to avoid such disasters – withdrew staff from Kunduz the day after the attack.
US forces “did not know the compound was an MSF medical centre,” said Campbell. “They executed from air and did not take appropriate measures to verify the facility was a military target,” he said, adding that “fatigue” and “high operational tempo contributed to this tragedy”.
Several service members had been suspended over the attack, he said.
|Air strike kills medical staff in Afghanistan|
The US warplane attacked the hospital at 2am. At 2:20am, MSF alerted US forces to the attack. At 2:37am, the US realised it had made a “fatal mistake”, added Campbell.
The 3,000-page US military report will be followed by other investigations, including by NATO, he said.
Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, meanwhile, said: “The actions of air crew and special ops forces were inappropriate to the threats they faced.
“Some US individuals did violate the rules of engagement.”
Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said: “The basic tenets of the US law of war that every US force member is taught from basic training onwards includes the principles of proportionality and distinction.
“While General Shoffner would not address the laws of war, only saying that US forces did not follow the rules of engagement, he did imply that the attack was not proportional.”