WASHINGTON, The U.S. military targeted an Afghanistan hospital in an airstrike last month because it mistook the building for a Taliban site from which fighters were firing at forces on the ground, officials said Tuesday.
The Oct. 3 airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killed between 20 and 30 people, including humanitarian personnel of the medical group Doctors Without Borders, which staffed the hospital. The strike has since been criticized by the humanitarian group and several foreign officials and prompted a U.S. investigation.
Tuesday, CNN cited administration officials as saying the incident was the result of mistaken identity — led by technical and human error.
The officials’ revelations came a day before Gen. John Campbell, the top NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was set to give a brief summary of the investigation — even though the military still must determine if any disciplinary or punitive actions will be taken.
CNN’s report said the AC-130 aircraft involved in the 2 a.m. strike was supposed to target the nearby Taliban compound but fired on the hospital by mistake.
Doctors Without Borders, U.S. officials have previously said, took every step necessary to communicate the hospital’s location to military commanders and bears no responsibility for the accident.
According to the officials, the gunship was given incorrect coordinates that led it to an empty field. The crew of the plane then decided a nearby building, the hospital, must be the target site.
Further, they said, equipment on board the aircraft that was supposed to notify the crew of the hospital’s location was malfunctioning. The AC-130 crew also had not been notified of the hospital’s location because the plane had just diverted to the location from another mission.
Another unanswered question is why the plane’s crew, who were responding to a call for help from Afghan fighters who said they were under Taliban fire, targeted the hospital when it was clear there was no fighting there. The AC-130 has infrared equipment aboard that can detect gunfire on the ground.
“A combination of human and technical errors led to this disastrous strike,” one military officer said.
Doctors Without Borders, which believes the errant airstrike was a war crime, has asked for an independent investigation into the bombing.
By Doug G. Ware