On Wednesday, U.S. military officials announced that several American military soldiers and airmen responsible for killing and injuring civilians inside a hospital in Afghanistan violated the rules of engagement and will face disciplinary action.
In early October, a hospital in northern Afghanistan operated by the organization Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF, suffered an attack from U.S.-led coalition forces. Thirty-one people were killed in the bombing, including 12 hospital staffers. Three of the deaths were children in the intensive care unit.
The bombing, which took place at a hospital in the city of Kunduz, was originally reported as a request from Afghan military officers who were under fire from Taliban forces. The investigations prove that story to be false. Shortly after the bombing, it was reported that Doctors Without Borders would be leaving the city of Kunduz as a result of the bombing.
Gen. John Campbell, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner told reporters the bombing was the result of several human and technical failures. The officials declined to say how many soldiers were suspended.
“We made a terrible mistake that resulted in unnecessary deaths,” Brig. Shoffner said. The officials stated that the crew of an AC-130 gunship was sent to attack a Taliban command center in a different building, but problems with targeting sensors caused the crew to fire on the hospital despite a lack of hostile activity.
Campbell and Shoffner did not address previous claims by military officials that the Taliban had taken over the hospital, but the Associated Press reports that a summary of one of the investigations states there is no evidence to support the claim.
The reports detail a chaotic 25-minute period where planes fired 211 shells at the hospital before commanders realized a mistake had been made. The report also says 31 civilians were killed and 28 others were injured. These numbers are higher than previously reported and the investigators claim that additional civilians were likely killed or injured in the attacks.
One of the investigations is officially known as a combined civilian casualty assessment and was tasked with determining the facts of the bombing, but not assigning blame. U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Richard Kim led the investigation with a team representatives of NATO and the Afghan government. A second investigation conducted by the U.S. military looked into the issue of accountability.
Gen. Kim’s investigation found that U.S. Special Forces were planning a raid of a National Directorate of Security compound in Kunduz on the night of the bombing. “The (U.S. Special Forces commander) did not label the MSF compound (Doctors Without Borders’ French acronym) as containing a medical facility, and that the MSF medical facility was not marked so as to distinguish it as a protected medical establishment,” the report said.
As a result of this mistake, people running from the hospital were shot by gunfire, including one patient trying to escape in a wheelchair who was killed by shrapnel. The report says it is unclear if the commander on the ground who gave the authorization had the coordinates for the hospital when he ordered the attack.
A copy of the casualty assessment report was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday but has not been released publicly.