US admits it killed 30 civilians in 'human error'

Results of investigation reveal extent of snafu in US gunship shelling medical clinic in Afghanistan, thinking it was hitting Taliban.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

US Commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell
US Commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell

An investigation by the US military on Wednesday revealed that the bombing of a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic in Afghanistan's Kunduz on October 3, which left 30 civilians dead, was caused by "human error."

In the strike, the AC-130 gunship's crew fired 211 shells at the clinic over 25 minutes - mistaking it for a nearby National Directorate of Security (NDS) government building that had been seized by Taliban terrorists, according to the inquiry.

Responding to the report, MSF said it revealed "gross negligence" by the US army in committing "violations of the rules of war," and likewise called for an "independent and impartial investigation into the attack."

While the US initially claimed the strike on the hospital came in response to enemy fire from the area, it later retracted the claim and launched the investigation.

US commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell on Wednesday said the strike was "the direct result of avoidable human error, compounded by process and equipment failures."

Campbell said the building was identified based on a visual description given to the crew by Afghan forces, but neither the crew nor headquarters checked the coordinates that clearly listed it as a MSF compound on a no-strike list.

"Tragically this misidentification continued throughout the remainder of the operation, even though there were some contradictory indicators," said Campbell in announcing the report. "This was a tragic mistake. US forces would never intentionally strike a hospital or other protected facilities."

In response to the report, MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said, "it appears that 30 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of people are being denied life-saving care in Kunduz simply because the MSF hospital was the closest large building to an open field and 'roughly matched' a description of an intended target."

MSF argued in a report released earlier this month that it contacted US forces several times during the attack, saying it was being shelled to no avail.

The incident brings to mind the huge condemnation Israel faced during its airstrikes in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

A detailed study after the operation proved 49% of the casualties in Gaza were terrorists, meaning the IDF achieved a nearly 1:1 civilian to combatant ratio almost unprecedented in urban warfare.

And yet the US repeatedly condemned Israel for its strikes during the operation.

By contrast, reports last November showed that 96.5% of the casualties from US drone strikes in the Middle East were civilians. In October 2014, the White House declared that its policy banning drone strikes on civilians "does not apply" in its campaign in Iraq and Syria.

Those lighter standards for the US were shown again this May, when US strikes reportedly hit a village with no terrorists present in it, killing 52 Syrian civilians.