26 Nov 2015

US attacked MSF Kunduz clinic 'in error'

8:50 am on 26 November 2015

A US aircraft attacked a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic in the Afghan city of Kunduz because of "human error", a US military inquiry says.

The investigation found that the crew of the AC-130 gunship mistook the clinic for a nearby government building that had been seized by Taliban.

At least 30 patients and staff were killed in the 3 October attack, amid a campaign to retake Kunduz from Taliban forces.

November 10 ,2015, an Afghan (L) talks to staff members in a charred corridor of the damaged Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in northern Kunduz. On October 3, 2015 US forces bombed the MSF Hospital in northern Kunduz, killing at least 30 people.

On 3 October US forces bombed the MSF Hospital in northern Kunduz, killing at least 30 people. Photo: AFP

MSF described the attack as a war crime and demanded a thorough investigation.

The medical charity also disputed initial US justifications for the attack, which suggested US forces had struck near the hospital because they had come under fire in the area.

The US military later admitted that the strike was a mistake and launched an investigation.

US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Campbell, said the crew of the AC-130 had mistaken the MSF clinic for a nearby security services building that had been captured by the Taliban.

The aircraft identified the building based on a visual description provided by Afghan forces, he said, and did not refer to coordinates provided by MSF for inclusion on a "no-strike list".

In this photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 3, 2015, fires burn in part of the MSF hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike.

Fires burn in part of the MSF hospital in Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike. Photo: AFP

"Tragically this misidentification continued throughout the remainder of the operation, even though there were some contradictory indicators," he said.

"This was a tragic mistake. US forces would never intentionally strike a hospital or other protected facilities."

The general said the US investigation had found that the attack on the hospital was "the direct result of avoidable human error, compounded by process and equipment failures".

He said other factors that contributed to the mistake included:

- "Fatigue and high operational tempo" endured by the soldiers.

- The loss of electronics communications systems on the aircraft

- The nature of the "planning and approvals process for operations" in Kunduz.

- The absence of a single system to check targets for attack against the no-strike list.

MSF released this photo showing surgeons working in an undamaged part of the hospital in Kunduz after the attack.

MSF released this photo showing surgeons working in an undamaged part of the hospital in Kunduz after the attack. Photo: AFP / MSF

- BBC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs