More Than a Dozen U.S. Military Personnel Disciplined for Doctors Without Borders Hospital Bombing

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Doctors Without Borders staff demonstrates in Geneva following the bombing in Kunduz.Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI

A U.S. military attack on a Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on October 3, 2015, was one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in the 15-year war. Forty-two people died in the attack, which Army General John Campbell, who was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time, called a “tragic but avoidable accident caused primarily by human error.” The Associated Press later reported that American analysts knew the hospital was a “protected medical site” but chose to proceed because they believed it was under Taliban control. (Doctors Without Borders adamantly denies this.) Now, according to the AP, more than a dozen military personnel have been “disciplined” for mistakes leading up to the attack.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, officials told the AP that “punishments, which have not been publicly announced, are largely administrative. But in some cases the actions, such as letters of reprimand, are tough enough to effectively end chances for further promotion. The disciplined include both officers and enlisted personnel, but officials said none are generals.” Officials added that the disciplinary actions are the result of an investigation into the attack, which was completed on Nov. 15; a report on the investigation, which is some 5,000 pages long, has yet to be publicly released.

But according to an “outline” of the report provided to the AP, the crew of the AC-130 gunship (the military vehicle that attacked the hospital) “had been dispatched to hit a Taliban command center in a different building 450 yards away from the hospital. However, hampered by problems with their targeting sensors, the crew relied on a physical description that led them to begin firing at the hospital even though they saw no hostile activity there.” They fired 211 shells at the hospital in less than 30 minutes before realizing their mistake. Officials later admitted they let things get out of hand — one of Campbell’s spokespeople called the crew’s actions “not appropriate” to the threat they faced.

President Obama apologized for the attack, but even after his apology Doctors Without Borders called it an “attack on the Geneva conventions” and insisted it be labeled a war crime.