Several soldiers and airmen have been removed from duty, the Associated Press reports, after making preventable errors and violating U.S. rules of engagement in the airstrike that killed 31 civilians at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan last month.
At a briefing in Kabul on Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, declined to identify those who had been removed from duty or specify how many had been removed. Two parallel, internal investigations found that those who called in the airstrike violated U.S. rules of engagement and used force that was disproportionate to the threat, his spokesman, Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, said.
The airstrike was supposed to have targeted a facility the Taliban was using as a command center near the hospital. The AC-130 gunship, Campbell said, fired at the wrong building, identifying it based on a physical description after the plane’s targeting sensors malfunctioned: “This was a tragic but avoidable accident caused primarily by human error.”
A summary of one of the investigations, obtained by The Associated Press, said that witnesses differed in their versions of how and why the strike was authorized. It also said the Special Forces commander who called in the strike, identified by AP sources as a major, had been given the coordinates of the hospital two days before but said he didn’t recall seeing them.
Investigators found that the aircrew continued the attack despite observing no hostile activity from the hospital, operated by the international group Doctors Without Borders. It found no evidence that armed Taliban were operating from there.
“The investigating officer’s recommendations on this have been referred to the proper authorities for disposition,” Brigadier General Shoffner said.
Doctors Without Borders, known in French as Médecins Sans Frontières, reiterated its call for an independent inquiry into the incident. “The U.S. version of events presented today leaves M.S.F. with more questions than answers,” the organization’s general director, Christopher Stokes, said. “The frightening catalog of errors outlined today illustrates gross negligence on the part of U.S. forces and violations of the rules of war.”
Human Rights Watch has called for a criminal investigation. “The Kunduz strike still warrants a criminal investigation into possible war crimes, but the Pentagon did not clarify whether recommendations made to senior commanders include possible criminal investigations,” HRW’s Asia policy director, John Sifton, told the Times.
“We are deeply concerned that any decision making about any possible criminal charges—if they are made—remains within the chain of command responsible for military operations in Afghanistan.”