U.S. says deadly airstrike on Afghan hospital was caused by ‘human error’

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An airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan that killed 30 staff members and patients was a tragic accident caused by human error, a top U.S. military commander conceded on Wednesday, but the aid organization is renewing its calls for an independent investigation.

The AC-130 strike, which Army Gen. John Campbell said was caused by “avoidable human error, compounded by process and equipment failures,” hit a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 3 in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. In addition to the fatalities, dozens of staff and patients were injured.

“The report found that from this point forward, multiple errors occurred that ultimately resulted in the misidentification of, and strike on, the MSF Trauma Center,” Campbell said. “During the flight, the electronic systems onboard the aircraft malfunctioned, preventing the operation of an essential command and control capability and eliminating the ability of the aircraft to transmit video, send/receive email, or send/receive electronic messages.”

Campbell said the soldiers “mostly closely” involved in the airstrike have been suspended, though he provided no specific details.

“This was a tragic mistake,” the commander added. “U.S. forces would never intentionally strike a hospital or other protected facility. Our deepest condolences go to all of the individuals and families that were affected by this tragic incident.”

But Doctors Without Borders dismissed Campbell’s statements, saying it left more questions than answers. “It is shocking that an attack can be carried out when U.S. forces have neither eyes on a target nor access to a no-strike list, and have malfunctioning communications systems,” said MSF general director Christopher Stokes. “It appears that 30 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of people are denied life-saving care in Kunduz simply because the MSF hospital was the closest large building to an open field and ‘roughly matched’ a description of an intended target.”

Stokes added: “The frightening catalogue of errors outlined today illustrates gross negligence on the part of U.S. forces and violations of the rules of war. The destruction of a protected facility without verifying the target – in this case a functioning hospital full of medical staff and patients — cannot only be dismissed as individual human error or breaches of the U.S. rules of engagement. MSF reiterates its call for an independent and impartial investigation into the attack on our hospital in Kunduz. Investigations of this incident cannot be left solely to parties to the conflict in Afghanistan.”

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