US military personnel suspended over Kunduz hospital airstrike
KABUL/WASHINGTON (Pajhwok): Some US troops, who were closely involved in last month's deadly airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in northern Afghanistan have been suspended, America’s top commander announced on Wednesday.
The airstrike killed 30 people, including staff and patients, in October after Taliban militants captured Kunduz City, the provincial capital. It was the first urban centre the rebels seized for three days since their regime was toppled in 2001.
Army Gen. John Campbell told reporters in Kabul that the airstrike was a tragic mistake “caused primarily by human error.” Sharing the results of an investigation into the 29-minute raid, he said the strike by an Air Force AC-130 gunship intended to hit a different building where there were enemy combatants.
Several service members had been suspended from duty after an internal military investigation, he said, without giving the number of the military personnel suspended over the “avoidable human error”.
However, The New York Times quoted an unnamed military official as saying the Army Special Forces commander on the ground in Kunduz during the fighting was among those punished. The captain was relieved of his command on Wednesday morning.
Gen. Campbell said the gunship’s crew believed it was firing on a different building identified as a Taliban base within Kunduz, a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan that had been invaded by the insurgents days before.
The general said the aircraft’s targeting systems failed to deliver accurate information, and in addition, email and other electronic systems on board the aircraft, including a live video feed that would normally have brought pictures to higher-level commanders in real time, also failed during the operation.
He added the US forces would never intentionally strike a hospital or other protected facilities. The general detailed a combination of errors that led to the mistake -- including special operations forces on the ground suffering from fatigue after fighting for five straight days and nights.
Instruments aboard the AC-130 gunship malfunctioned and a decision to skip a pre-flight briefing that would have warned pilots there was a hospital in the area that was on a no-strike list, the military commander explained.
The gunship deviated from its planned flight path, Campbell said, because it believed it was being targeted by a missile — a deviation that caused the accuracy of the aircraft’s instruments to become degraded.
Personnel aboard the aircraft came to the mistaken conclusion that the hospital was the intended target based on a physical description, Campbell added.
During the strike, he acknowledged, MSF officials had called military personnel to alert them the hospital was under attack, but the strike had already ended by the time that information was relayed to US personnel involved.
“Our deepest condolences go to all of the individuals and families that were affected by this tragic incident. We will offer our assistance to Doctors Without Borders in rebuilding the hospital in Kunduz,” Campbell said.
He said he personally briefed US Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Commander of European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Abdullah on the results of the investigation into the airstrike.
Congressmen Mac Thornberry and Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, were briefed by Campbell on his and the NATO Resolute Support Combined Civilian Casualty Assessment Team (CCAT)’s investigations into the incident.
“We appreciate his candour with us as he examines what went wrong in Kunduz. It is clear that process failures on multiple levels were involved. We will continue to oversee the investigation as it proceeds, and work closely with our forces in Afghanistan to ensure this tragedy is not repeated,” the lawmakers said in a statement.
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