In testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee, US Army General John Campbell, Commander, International Security Assistance Force, admitted US airstrikes that leveled a known Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 22, including doctors and children, was the result of a series errors by the US military. The stunning admission surprised everyone and left military officials scratching their heads since the investigation is on going.
The Atlantic reported, “An early version of the events asserted the hospital had been hit by airstrikes in response to a Taliban threat against American forces nearby. Afghan representatives also charged the hospital with harboring Taliban fighters, whom they say were firing from the facility.”
Yesterday’s testimony was the military’s third iteration of events describing mistake after mistake by the chain of command’s normally rigorous rules of engagement. The Obama administration’s strict rules only authorize the use of lethal force when US troops are under attack, killing terrorists or providing air support for the Afghanistan Security forces. “The US military takes the greatest care in our operations to prevent the loss of innocent life, and when we make mistakes, we own up to them. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now,” Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter said in the statement.
The Pentagon confirmed US Special Operations forces were on the ground near the hospital, but the US military did not have “eyes on the target.”
Military sources explained the likely process played out something like this: Afghan forward air controllers (FAC) called for assistance from US Special Forces in the area, who relayed the call for the fire support mission on Non-Government Organization site to the Fire Support Coordination Center (FSCC). The FSCC would reject the fire mission as the GPS coordinates were off limits under the rules of engagement that clearly define hospitals as “off limits.” One likely scenario is that Afghan FAC personnel notified US military brass that the NGO evacuated the site and the Taliban had taken over the Doctors Without Borders coordinates and then US Special operators inserted into the battle were at risk of taking casualties. Under this situation, US casualties would allow the FSCC to supersede any prohibition on attacking the NGO coordinates, especially if FAC reported NGO personnel had evacuated site.
Doctors Without Borders swiftly condemned the US airstrikes and characterized the assault a war crime. The NGO said the hospital had been operational since 2011 and was the only trauma center in Kunduz. Staff members of the organization confirmed multiple efforts to reach the US military went unanswered for more than an hour.
However, Gen. Campbell explained, “We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.” He also pointed out the US drawdown contributed to the self-described mistake. “Our force reduction, drop in enablers, and resultant (close air support) gap have created challenges for the Afghan security forces. They have understandable (sic) (s/b understandably) struggled at times to adjust.”
Senator McCain concurred with the commander. “The shortfalls are hauntingly familiar– intelligence, logistics, airlift, close air support, Special Forces” were left out to dry. “The White House remains committed to its politically driven withdrawal of nearly all US forces in Afghanistan.”
Campbell also said the US military “ deeply regrets the loss of innocent lives.”
The latest revelation acknowledges a string of intelligence failures that elucidates the US intel community is still stove piping classified information. “The big picture is that international aid agencies have been forced out of the city for the time being, so there is essentially no proper health and trauma care for those left there,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesman Jens Laerke told reporters at a briefing in Geneva.
A statement issued Saturday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed that Doctors Without Borders personal informed US and Allied forces of the precise location of the medical facilities.
“Obviously this is a setback for the Afghan security forces. But we’ve seen them respond in recent weeks and months to the challenges they’ve faced. And they’re doing the same thing in Kunduz right now,” Peter Cook, Pentagon spokesman told reporters at a news briefing back on September 29.
Reuters news service corrected early reports over the weekend that the Associated Press had video footage “of the burned out compound of Kunduz city showing automatic weapons, including rifles and at least one machine-gun, on windowsills. The AP issued the following correction on Oct. 5: In stories on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4 about the bombing of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in the Afghan city of Kunduz, The Associated Press reported erroneously that AP video appeared to show weaponry in the windows of the medical facility. Further review of the images cast doubt on whether they were rifles and a machine-gun or simply debris from the bombing.” According to Pentagon officials the US dispatched an AC-130 Spectre gunship warplane known for its ability to use the lethal Bofors 40 mm gun at night, as well as the M102 105 mm howitzer.
Trying to explain violence in Kunduz, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense said “terrorists armed with light and heavy weapons had entered the hospital compound and used the buildings and the people inside as a shield while firing on security forces.” However, Doctors Without Borders Executive Director Jason Cone strongly denied that the hospital had been taken hostage.
Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi explained that 15 terrorists had been hiding in the hospital at the time of the strike. “All of the terrorists were killed but we also lost doctors,” he said. Taking the spat of Blue on green violence into consideration, US military personal had to trust their Afghan Security counterparts. Gen. Campbell intimated that US Special Operators relied on reports from Afghans that proved deadly for the city’s only trauma center.
The Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders told CNN that “hospital officials in Kunduz immediately reached out to U.S. military officials when the airstrike occurred.” He also said the US actions constituted war crimes and called for an independent review of the Kunduz airstrike. There are currently three seperate investigations by the Pentagon, Afghanistan and NATO.
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