U.S. Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital “Human Error”

Two transport helicopters fly over a blue sky.

Image: Shutterstock

A U.S. airstrike that killed 30 people by accident last month at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is being considered the result of human error. The military aimed at the wrong target, missing a nearby site where Taliban fighters were suspected to be firing.

The military personnel responsible for the tragic accident have been suspended from their positions and the United States is investigating. The gunship crew believed they were striking a building several hundred yards away from the hospital, but the crew failed to “undertake appropriate measures” to determine that the target site was the correct one.

By the time officials from Doctors Without Borders called the U.S. military to tell them they were bombing the wrong location, the attack had already ended.

Electronic systems aboard the aircraft used to execute the strike, an AC-130, is also reported to have had malfunctions that prevented crucial commands and control functions, like the ability so send and receive electronic communication. Furthermore, the group responsible for the accident did not realize that the grid coordinates they were preparing to use matched the hospital for a location, which are prohibited from being attacked.

“No nation does more to prevent civilian casualties than the United States, but we failed to meet our own high standards on October 3rd,” said Army General John Campbell, the top military commander in Afghanistan. “This was a tragic but avoidable accident caused primarily by human error.”

Campbell has released a brief summary of the current investigation’s findings. He believes the accident was serious and because it has received so much media attention, Campbell felt it was necessary to take the unusual step of releasing the information. It has not yet been decided if Campbell will take further action or if he will refer the investigation to the military groups who oversaw the troops involved in the accident.

“It is clear that process failures on multiple levels were involved,” said R-Texas Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “We will continue to oversee the investigation as it proceeds, and work closely with our forces in Afghanistan to ensure this tragedy is not repeated.”

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