The US airstrikes that killed at least 30 people at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz was a “tragic but avoidable accident caused primarily by human error”, Gen. John Campbell, head of the US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, said on Wednesday
At a briefing in Kabul on Wednesday to announce findings of a US national investigation into the October 3 airstrikes, Gen. Campbell conceded some personnel, including a US special forces commander, did not follow US rules of engagement.
That included not taking appropriate measures to determine whether the hospital was a legitimate target.
The AC-130 gunship also launched without critical documents, including the “no-strike” list that identified the location of the hospital.
“Individuals most closely associated with the incident have been suspended from their duties,” said Gen. Campbell.
However, “the US forces directly involved in this incident did not know the targeted compound was the MSF [hospital]”, he stressed.
Other factors, including the malfunctioning of the gunship’s electronic systems contributed to the event, which ultimately claimed the lives of at least 30 staff, patients and caregivers, and the wounding of 37 others.
The intended target was a building located several hundred feet from the hospital in Kunduz, believed to be a Taliban command center.
Taliban fighters captured the major northern city five days earlier. In the lead up to the airstrike, Afghan forces, supported by US and other coalition forces, had failed to reclaim the city.
The briefing left “more questions than answers,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF general director.
Reiterating his earlier calls for an independent investigation, Mr Stokes added that the destruction of their hospital could not be “dismissed as individual human error or breaches of US rules of engagement".
In their own investigation report released earlier this month, MSF confirmed they had provided the hospital coordinates to US and Afghan military forces.
The hospital was also one of the few buildings in Kunduz that night lit up by generator electricity, and there were two large MSF flags on the roof, MSF stated.
The gunship crew that evening did not see those physical markers of the hospital, Gen Campbell said.
But they also saw no evidence of hostility at the hospital, Brig-Gen Wilson Shoffner, a US military spokesman later added.
“It’s important to remember this was a complicated and chaotic situation”, Brig-Gen Shoffner said, “but chaos did not justify this tragedy.”