Campbell admits mistake in hitting Kunduz hospital
WASHINGTON (Pajhwok): The deadly airstrike that hit a hospital in the capital of northern Kunduz province was a mistake made within the US chain of command, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Tuesday.
The air attack by US air forces on Saturday bombed the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), killing 22 people, with the medical charity calling it a war crime.
General John Campbell told lawmakers the hospital was struck by mistake and they would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.
Campbell told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during Congressional hearing on the situation in Afghanistan. “I must allow the investigation to take its course and, therefore, I'm not at liberty to discuss further specifics at this time.”
However, he assured the investigation would be thorough, objective and transparent as he referred to the three different investigations being conducted by the US, NATO and the Afghan government.
Campbell said US forces provided close air support to Afghan forces at their request. “To be clear, the decision to provide aerial flyers was a US decision made within the US chain of command,” he said.
Responding to a question on the Taliban advances in Kunduz, he said, the Taliban was unlikely to get control over Afghanistan. “I do not believe that the Taliban would take over the government,” he said.
Senator John McCain said the United States had made significant and steady progress in Afghanistan. “But as US military officials and diplomats have warned for years, I repeat for years, these gains are still reversible,” he said.
However, Campbell said the Afghan security forces' inconsistent performance in Kunduz underscored several of their shortcomings. “They must improve their intelligence fusion, command and control, utilization of their forces,” he noted.
“They don't possess the necessary combat power and numbers to protect every part of the country. This makes it very difficult for the Afghan security forces to counter the Taliban's ability to temporarily mask, seize an objective, and then blend back into the population,” he observed.
“Ultimately, the Afghan security leaders need to discern better when to fight, when to hold, and where to assume risk. Despite these shortcomings, however, the Afghan security forces have displayed courage and resilience. They're still holding. The Afghan government retains control of Kabul, Highway 1, its provincial capitals and nearly all the district centers,” the general said.
Campbell said the Afghan security forces were effectively protecting the principal population centers. “The Afghan security forces have repeatedly shown that without key enablers and competent operational-level commanders, they cannot handle the fight alone in this stage of their development,” he said.
Referring to the Taliban advances in Kunduz, Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argued for a review of President Obama’s decision on keeping number of troops on the ground.
“A robust and adaptive US troop presence, based on conditions on the ground, not on a calendar, is essential to ensuring that these gains endure. Failure to adopt such a conditions-based plan, these experts have warned, would invite the same tragedy that has unfolded in Iraq since 2011,” McCain warned.
He said it was not too late for President Obama to abandon this dangerous course and adopt a plan for US troop presence based on conditions on the ground.
“But time is of the essence and continued delays by the White House are hurting US national security interest and those of our partners in Afghanistan and beyond. America's friends and foes alike are waiting on President Obama.”
Senator Jack Reed said Taliban forces continued to be formidable despite the announcement of Mullah Omar's death. “This year casualties to the Afghan security forces have reached their highest level since the start of the conflict.”
He said the Taliban had expanded their control in some rural areas, closing schools, reducing the Afghan people's access to services, killing or intimidating government officials, re-imposing restrictions on Afghan women and girls and reversing the progress of the past decade in these areas.
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