- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The U.S. airstrike that destroyed a charity hospital in Afghanistan last month was the result of human errors, failures in procedure and technical malfunctions, two military officials told The New York Times.

The Pentagon is expected on Wednesday at a press conference to give details on the findings of its internal investigation into the Oct. 3 incident in the city of Kunduz that left at least 30 people dead.

Two officials briefed on the military’s investigation told The Times that the Special Operations AC-130 gunship that destroyed the hospital, operated by Doctors Without Borders, was intended to target a different compound several hundred feet away that was believed to be a Taliban stronghold in the city.

The unnamed officials said the investigation found that the gunship’s crew had been unable to rely on the aircraft’s instruments to find the target and had to rely on verbal descriptions of the building that were being relayed by American and Afghan Special Forces on the ground.

Based on those verbal descriptions, the gunship locked in on the hospital compound and carried out a series of strikes, mistakenly believing it was the building that the soldiers on the ground were describing, the officials said, The Times reported.

It was not made clear whether relying on such informal instructions would equate to a breach of military operational rules in an urban area with civilians present.

The officials did not address why the ground forces did not relay to the gunship’s crew that they were hitting the wrong building during the strikes, which lasted for roughly an hour and a half.

The building the gunship had meant to bomb was the headquarters of the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, in Kunduz, the officials said. The city had fallen to Taliban militants a few days before the strike, and the insurgents were reportedly using that building as an operations base.  

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres  (MSF), maintains that the airstrike constitutes a war crime. 

The organization said it had reminded U.S. military officials multiple times of their location and status as a hospital and had clearly marked the building as such. MSF officials reportedly made several calls to the American command in Afghanistan and other offices to try to halt the attack. Witnesses reported seeing the gunship fire at people who were fleeing the building.

“A mistake is quite hard to understand and believe at this state,” Christopher Stokes, the general director of Doctors Without Borders, said at a news conference in Kabul earlier this month.

Gen. John F. Campbell, the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, said the hospital was “mistakenly struck” in testimony before Congress. President Obama later apologized for the attack.




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