WASHINGTON >> American soldiers and airmen who killed and wounded dozens of civilians in a strike on an Afghanistan hospital violated the rules of engagement and have been suspended as they await disciplinary action, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.
Briefing reporters on the results of two investigations, Gen. John Campbell, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, described an egregious series of human and technical failures that led a U.S. warplane to mistakenly destroy a medical charity's hospital in northern Afghanistan last month. But Campbell and other officials would not say how many people had been removed from their jobs nor whether those high up the chain of command will be subject to discipline.
Officials said the crew of an AC-130 gunship had been dispatched to hit a Taliban command center in a different building, 450 yards away. However, hampered by problems with their targeting sensors, the crew relied on a physical description that led them to begin firing at a hospital run by the Doctors Without Borders medical charity, even though they saw no hostile activity there.
Many chances to avert the error were missed, officials said.
"We made a terrible mistake that resulted in unnecessary deaths," Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner said.
Campbell and Shoffner said that neither the special forces commander who called in the strike at the request of Afghan forces, nor the air crew, was aware that a hospital was being hit until it was too late. They did not address claims by Afghan officials that the hospital had been overrun by the Taliban, but a summary of one of the investigations, obtained by The Associated Press, says there is no evidence to support that. It also says there was no hostile activity observed at the hospital.
The plane fired 211 shells at the compound over 25 minutes before commanders realized the mistake and ordered a halt, according to the summary. Doctors Without Borders contacted coalition military personnel during the attack to say its facility was "being 'bombed' from the air," and the word finally was relayed to the AC-130 crew, the report said.
The report says the attack on Oct. 3 in the city of Kunduz killed at least 31 civilians and injured 28 others. Investigators determined that additional civilians probably were killed or injured.