General: Doctors Without Borders hospital was 'mistakenly struck'

Gen. John Campbell testified Tuesday that the US bombing that killed 22 at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was not intentional, shifting the Pentagon's initial account of 'collateral damage.'

Carolyn Kaster
Members of CodePink protest the deadly American attack on a hospital in northern Afghanistan as U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Resolute Support Mission Commander Gen. John Campbell, right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Situation in Afghanistan.

The American airstrike that killed at least 22 people at an Afghan Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz was a mistake, according to the top commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan.

"The decision to provide aerial fires was a US decision, made within the US chain of command," US Army Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. "The hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility."

He promised a "thorough, objective and transparent" investigation into the incident. He also said Afghan forces had requested air support from the United States, having been in combat with Taliban forces in Kunduz.

"Afghan forces on the ground requested air support from our forces there on the ground," he said, "but as I said in my opening statement, even though the Afghans request that support, it still has to go through a rigorous US procedure to enable fires to go on the ground.”

The Saturday bombings went on for than 30 minutes and the hospital burned for hours afterwards. Of those killed, 12 were staff members and 10 were patients, three of whom were children.

Doctors Without Borders, known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has demanded an independent investigation of the incident.

"[The US] description of the attack keeps changing – from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government," MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said in a statement. "With such constant discrepancies in the US and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical."

According to local authorities, Taliban militants were inside the hospital and had been targeting Afghan forces. But MSF denies this. The international medical charity reported, "Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the US airstrike on Saturday morning."

The actual target of the airstrike remains unclear, as initial reports said that the airstrike aimed for individuals "in the vicinity" of the hospital. It’s protocol for US forces to verify a target before firing, and MSF said that the organization had informed both the US and Afghan authorities of its GPS coordinates. The Pentagon has changed its narrative of the incident since Saturday.

War protesters with red paint on their faces and hands attended the Tuesday hearing. At one point, a woman shouted "Bombing hospitals is a war crime! Stop the bombing now!" and was escorted out of the room, The Associated Press reports

Campbell repeatedly emphasized that the US would never knowingly target a hospital. 

"We continue to make extraordinary efforts to protect civilians. No military in history has done more to avoid harming innocents," he told the committee. "We've readily assumed greater risks to our own forces in order to protect noncombatants."

In his address before the Senate committee, Campbell also called for President Obama to revise his plan to diminish the US military presence in Afghanistan at the end of 2016, saying that counterterrorism missions and the ability to train Afghan forces would be greatly limited if the number of US troops decreased to 1,000 by the end of next year.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.