U.S. commander admits mistake in bombing Afghan hospital

Oct 6, 2015 12:34 PM by News Staff

WASHINGTON - The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says the recent airstrike on a hospital in the northern city of Kunduz was a mistake.

Gen. John F. Campbell told a Senate committee that Afghan forces requested air support Saturday while engaged in combat with Taliban fighters in the city of Kunduz, communicating with U.S. special operations troops at the scene.

Those U.S. forces were in contact with the AC-130 gunship that fired on the hospital, Campbell said.

"To be clear, the decision to provide (airstrikes) was a U.S. decision, made within the U.S. chain of command," Campbell said. "The hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility."

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Campbell said he could not provide more details about what happened, including who may have failed to follow procedures for avoiding attacks on hospitals. He said he must await the outcome of multiple investigations.

The clinic was operated by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders.

Campbell said Monday that the airstrike was requested by Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire.

The Pentagon changed its story on how and why the attack happened as news of the incident spread. At first, officials claimed the airstrike was called in by U.S. forces under threat while working with Afghan government troops trying to retake Kunduz from the Taliban. It was only some time later that officials said the airstrike was called in by the Afghans themselves.

Members of Doctors Without Borders have taken to calling the incident a "war crime."

The executive director of the UK branch of Doctors Without Borders, Vickie Hawkins, dismissed Campbell's explanation in an interview with Public Radio International, echoing earlier statements from the organization on how they see the incident.

"Under the rules of international humanitarian law, a hospital is a hospital and the people inside are patients -- to target a medical facility in this way is a violation of that, whatever the circumstances," Hawkins told PRI.

The charity said that the main hospital building in the sprawling compound, "where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched." It earlier said that bombing had lasted an hour, and repeated calls to NATO and the U.S. military to call off the strikes had failed.

On Sunday, the organization announced that three injured hospital patients had died, bringing the total death toll to 22, including 12 hospital staffers. It earlier said that three of the dead were children in the intensive care unit. The charity also announced it was withdrawing from Kunduz.

Afghan officials said earlier that helicopter gunships had returned fire from Taliban fighters who were hiding in the hospital. But Kate Stegeman, the charity's communications manager, said there were no insurgents in the facility at the time of the bombing.

The attack was a "grave violation of international humanitarian law," it added. The MSF statement made no mention of whether Taliban fighters were present in the hospital.


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