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Pentagon says Afghan hospital strike caused primarily by human error

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that a deadly U.S. airstrike on an Afghan hospital last month was "caused primarily by human error," admitting that some members of U.S. forces involved in the incident did not follow the rules of engagement.

"The medical facility was misidentified as a target by U.S. personnel who believed they were striking a different building several hundred meters away where there were reports of combatants," said John Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in a Pentagon briefing from Afghanistan.

"The personnel who requested the strike and those who executed it from the air did not undertake appropriate measures to verify that the facility was a legitimate military target," added Campbell, calling the incident "tragic but avoidable."

On Oct. 3, a U.S. AC-130 gunship devastated an Afghan hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, an international medical aid agency also known by its French language acronym MSF, killing at least 30 civilians and injuring another 37.

According to Campbell, MSF on Sept. 29 sent the coordinates of its Afghan facility in Kunduz to multiple recipients within the U.S. and NATO chains of command.

On Oct. 3, MSF also contacted U.S. military personnel 12 minutes after the strike began. However, it took another 17 minutes for U.S. headquarters and the U.S. special operations commander to realize the fatal mistake, said Campbell.

During the 29-minute strike, 211 shells were fired by the U.S. warplane at the hospital compound.

In addition to human errors, which included problems with the planing and approval process employed during the strike and the lack of a single system to vet proposed targets against a no-strike list, Campbell also cited malfunction of the electronic communication system onboard the warplane as a factor in the incident.

Currently, another combined investigation by NATO and the Afghan government was underway, said Campbell. White House officials had said earlier that the investigative effort would be "transparent, thorough and objective."

"But none of these (investigations) is independent and impartial," Marjorie Cohn, professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"If the U.S. government really believes it did nothing wrong, it should not resist an independent, impartial investigation sponsored by the United Nations," said Professor Cohn, referring to a previous request by MSF to demand an investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC).

Established under the Geneva Conventions in 1991, the IHFFC cannot carry out an investigation without consent of countries involved. So far, the White House had not consented to MSF's demand.

Shortly after the incident, the MSF issued a blistering statement, calling the U.S. airstrike "a war crime."

"There is probable cause to believe that U.S. forces committed a war crime by striking the hospital," said Professor Cohn. "Under the Geneva Conventions, there is a duty to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and civilians and their facilities cannot be targeted."

According to Professor Cohn, even if the hospital were being used for military purpose, a claim dismissed by the MSF, any military strikes against it must be "proportionate to the military advantage sought" and the U.S. forces had a duty to warn the people inside the hospital before any strikes were materialized.

"The U.S. forces never warned those in the hospital before striking it," said Professor Cohn, calling the airstrike "a precise hit" on the hospital.

[Source: Xinhua, Washington, 25Nov15]

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small logoThis document has been published on 26Nov15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.