U.S. Army Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, told lawmakers Tuesday that the American air strike that hit a charity hospital in Northern Afghanistan, killing at least 22 people, was not intended to target medical staff or patients.
“A hospital was mistakenly struck,” Gen. Campbell said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.”
Gen. Campbell added that he had ordered his forces to undergo an in-depth re-training to review the rules of engagement governing the current mission in Afghanistan.
He told lawmakers that the strike was requested by Afghan forces but said the decision was a U.S. decision that was made within the U.S. chain of command.
The Pentagon is currently conducting an investigation into the incident, which occurred over the weekend in the city of Kunduz, the first major Afghan city to fall to the Taliban since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
Gen. Campbell said information of the bombing would be made available after the investigation was completed, but gave no timeline for the probe.
On Monday, Gen. Campbell said the attack, which took place late Saturday night, was authorized after Afghan forces requested air support from the U.S., saying they were taking direct fire from the Taliban. That revelation contradicted earlier reports from Pentagon officials that the strike was ordered to protect U.S. forces on the ground.
The charity group Doctors Without Borders, which operated the bombed hospital, has labeled the attack as a war crime. Twelve of the group’s staff were killed in the bombing. NATO has called for its own investigation into the incident.
During his testimony, Gen. Campbell also told the Senate panel that Afghan forces were not ready to fight for themselves yet.
“Afghan security leaders need to discern better when to fight, when to hold and when to assume risk,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said President Obama is aware of the “tenuous situation.”
His remarks come as the Pentagon is grappling with how best to carry out the Obama administration’s plan to draw down dramatically the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Gen. Campbell has reportedly drafted five drawdown options, including reducing the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan to 8,000, cutting the force in half or sticking with the president’s plan.
“I do believe we have to provide our senior leadership options different from the current way we’re going,” he said Tuesday.