Doctors Without Borders or as they are known in French, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has once again called for an independent investigation of the attack on a hospital camp in Kunduz, Afghanistan, which took place on October 3, 2015, after military announced administrative punishments for the US Special Forces personnel involved in the incident.
In a statement issued after the announcement of the punishments, MSF alleged that the administrative punishments announced were “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 16-member crew involved in the attack included a two-star general, the crew of the AC-130 gunship, and Army Special Forces. All of them have been disciplined as a result and one officer was sent home. The remaining members received mild administrative reprimands. For an officer the given reprimand can mean end of career in the military in United States.
The statement maintained the MSF’s stance that to restart medical services in Kunduz, assurances are required that an incident like this will not happen again. DWB added that every day that passes without these assurance adds further life toll to the attack due to lack of medical services in the region.
MSF also stressed that these reprimand measures sends a worrying signal to the world and would not ‘do much or help to’ stop future violations in a war zone.
MSF Belgium President, Meinie Nicolai, on the investigation, subsequent report and briefing said that this is simply United States military acknowledging an uncontrolled military operation, in a densely populated area, during which the US forces did not uphold the basic laws of war. She further added that the incident should not be judged on the basis of intention as “armed groups cannot escape their responsibilities on the battlefield simply by ruling out the intent to attack a protected structure such as a hospital”.
MSF maintains that as under international and US military code of justice, recklessness and negligence in a war zone without deliberate intention to kill can still constitute as a crime, so the investigation should be conducted independently and preferably by International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission.
Pentagon released its report of the attack on April 29, 2016, and the head of US Central Command General Joseph Votel at the time said that the attack was unintentional and its nature took it out of the territory of a deliberate war crime against people.
A number of people came out and disagreed with the assessment. Human Rights Watch representative Patricia Grossman tweeted that it is an established principle of traditional international law that acts of recklessness are considered war crimes. Amnesty international has also called for an independent inquiry of the matter.
The investigation, which led to the said report was directed by General John Campbell who was at the time commander of USFOR-A, and was approved by him on November 21, 2015.
The lead investigator was Army Major General William Hickman. The investigation team visited several places in Kunduz, including the MSF Trauma Center which was attacked and interviewed nearly 65 witnesses, including people present at the day of the attack and members of Afghan and US forces. The report is comprised of 3,000 pages of documentary evidence, much of which is classified or redacted.
The report concluded that the incident happened due to a combination of human errors, equipment, and process failures. None of the personnel involved in the operation knew that they were striking a medical facility at the time.
The incident took place when during a planned operation of combined US Military Special Forces and Afghan ground troops and an AC-130 came under attack. The plane subsequently looking for Taliban attackers on the ground found the Trauma Camp working as a hospital with the help of Doctors Without Borders.
The report confirms that the hospital was indeed on the “no-strike” list but due to the launch of the mission an hour earlier than planned based on the reports of attack on US troops, the list containing “no-strike” targets was not loaded into the plane’s internal information systems. The attack also happened at the end of four days of heavy engagement with the militants.
At the site the aircraft’s radio and satellite data link failed. The aircraft could not communicate with ground forces or receive emails or uploads. The communication failures led to misidentification of the hospital as the target by both ground commanders and aircraft crew. When the attack stopped, 42 people were killed and dozens were injured including caregivers.
The attack happened at night on October 3, 201, in the city of Kunduz.
The intended target was a former prison run by Afghan government’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) which was overrun by the Taliban.