Pentagon Disciplines 16 for 'Tragic' Hospital Strike
(CN) — Stopping short of labeling the airstrike a war crime, a Pentagon report on the October bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan recommended discipline for 16 members of U.S. armed services.
Three days after the Oct. 3 attack, Gen. John Campbell assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that his troops had "mistakenly" hit the Kunduz hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the French name of the well-known nongovernmental organization.
"We would never intentionally target a protected, medical facility," Campbell testified at the time.
The strike killed 42 people, including 14 MSF staffers, and wounded dozens more.
Released Friday, U.S. Central Command's unclassified summary of a five-part, 726-page report says that troops strayed from their training while attempting to target a Taliban-controlled area 400 meters away.
"The commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the law of armed conflict and rules of engagement," the five-page summary memo states. "However, he 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."
Human rights lawyers quoted in the New York Times rejected that premise.
John Sifton, the Asia policy director of Human Rights Watch, told the paper that the supposed requirement of deliberate or intentional action is "flatly wrong" and that failing to criminal prosecute violators was "simply put, inexplicable."
Centcom identified 16 service members "whose conduct warranted consideration for appropriate administrative or disciplinary action, including a general officer," according to the memo.
The report says that Gen. Campbell took action against 12, whose discipline ranged from "suspension, removals from command, letters of reprimand, formal counseling and extensive retraining."
"Five personnel involved were directed out of theater," the memo states.
MSF's president Meinie Nicolai described the Pentagon's briefing as an "admission of an uncontrolled military operation in a densely populated urban area, during which U.S. forces failed to follow the basic laws of war."
"It is incomprehensible that, under the circumstances described by the U.S., the attack was not called off," Nicolai continued in a statement.
Centcom's report has not slowed calls for an independent investigation.
On Thursday, Amnesty International responded with outrage to leaked descriptions of the report to the press revealing that the U.S. military would only take administrative actions.
"Amnesty International has long expressed serious concerns about the Department of Defense's questionable track record of policing itself," Naureen Shah, the director of its Security With Human Rights program, said in a statement. "These reports demonstrate the need for an independent investigation, outside of the chain of command, to determine what happened in Kunduz and to assess potential criminal wrongdoing."
The Pentagon memo called its investigation the product of "more than 3,000 pages of documentary evidence, much of it classified."
The broader reports redact the names of all 16 service members facing possible discipline, along with other information.