Updated on April 29 at 1:01 ET
Sixteen U.S. military personnel are being disciplined for the errors that led to the U.S. bombing of a civilian hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, last October, the Defense Department announced Friday.
The investigation concluded that the personnel involved did not know that they were striking a medical facility. The intended target was an insurgent-controlled site which was approximately 400 meters away from the MSF Trauma Center. The investigation found that an AC-130U Gunship aircrew, in support of a U.S. Special Forces element that was supporting a partnered Afghan ground force, misidentified and struck the MSF Trauma Center. The investigation determined that all members of both the ground force and the AC-130U aircrew were unaware the aircrew was firing on a medical facility throughout the engagement.
The comprehensive investigation concluded that this tragic incident was caused by a combination of human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures. Fatigue and high operational tempo also contributed to the incident. These factors contributed to the “fog of war,” which is the uncertainty often encountered during combat operations. The investigation found that this combination of factors caused both the ground force commander and the air crew to believe mistakenly that the air crew was firing on the intended target, an insurgent-controlled site approximately 400 meters away from the MSF Trauma Center.
The Commander of USFOR-A concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict. However, the investigation did not conclude that these failures amounted to a war crime. The label “war crimes” is typically reserved for intentional acts -- intentionally targeting civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects. The investigation found that the tragic incident resulted from a combination of unintentional human errors and equipment failures, and that none of the personnel knew that they were striking a medical facility.
The Pentagon said 12 of the 16 personnel involved faced actions ranging from suspension and removal from command to letters of reprimand, formal counseling, and extensive retraining. The other five were involved were directed out of theater. None of the 16 was identified, though one was a general.
The hospital in Kunduz was run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian group. In the aftermath of the October 3 bombing that killed 42 people, MSF called for a never-before-used mechanism of the Geneva Conventions to investigate the strike, and General John Campbell, the most senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, acknowledged the “hospital was mistakenly struck.”
Among the steps outlined on Friday, the Pentagon said the Defense Department had approved $5.7 million to reconstruct the MSF hospital in Kunduz.
MSF, in an initial statement, said:
The administrative punishments announced by the U.S. today are out of proportion to the destruction of a protected medical facility, the deaths of 42 people, the wounding of dozens of others, and the total loss of vital medical services to hundreds of thousands of people. The lack of meaningful accountability sends a worrying signal to warring parties, and is unlikely to act as a deterrent against future violations of the rules of war.
At the same time, it has become clear that the victims and their families have neither the option to pursue legal action against the U.S. military, either in Afghanistan or in the U.S., nor to claim compensation for loss of life and livelihood. This has only compounded the devastation of the attack.