US denies Afghan hospital strike was war crime after punishing 16

The US military disciplined 16 personnel for last year's airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Afghanistan, the Defence Department said Friday, concluding that the bombing was inadvertent and therefore not a war crime.

Technical and human error led to the attack, General Joseph Votel said as he presented the results of an internal investigation into the October 3 incident in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

At least 42 people, including 24 patients, 14 staff and four caretakers, were killed and 37 others wounded in the airstrike, which destroyed the MSF hospital building and prompted widespread condemnation from human rights groups.

"The personnel involved did not know that they were striking a medical facility," the investigation report concluded. "The intended target was an insurgent-controlled site which was approximately 400 meters away from the MSF Trauma Center."

The hospital was mistaken for another building controlled by the Taliban, Votel told reporters at the Pentagon. The hospital was on a list of buildings not to target, but the aircraft crew did not have access to the list due to problems with a radio system, he added.

Neither the aircrew or the ground forces knew the medical facility was being fired on, according to the report.

"The investigation concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the rules of engagement in the law of armed conflict. However, the investigation that these failures amounted to a war crime," Votel said.

"The label war crimes is typically reserved for intentional acts - intentional targeting civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects or locations."

MSF said it was reviewing the report to determine if it addressed questions that remained after the attack, but the international medical charity said it was not satisfied with an investigation carried out only by the military rather than an independent body.

"Today's briefing amounts to an admission of an uncontrolled military operation in a densely populated urban area, during which US forces failed to follow the basic laws of war," MSF President Meinie Nicolai said in a statement. "It is incomprehensible that, under the circumstances described by the US, the attack was not called off."

The US cannot "escape their responsibilities on the battlefield simply by ruling out the intent to attack a protected structure."

Sixteen military personnel, including a general officer, were singled out for disciple, but none will face criminal charges, Votel said.

Punishments included suspension and removal from command, letters of reprimand, counseling and retraining, the military said. Five people were ordered out of Afghanistan.

Exact details about punishments and who was involved were withheld due to privacy concerns.

The US will also make payments to the victims and their families and spend 5.7 million dollars to rebuild the hospital.

The military was also instituting reforms to prevent such mistakes in the future, including changes into how its no-strike list is accessed.

US President Barack Obama had been briefed on the report, spokesman Josh Earnest said.

In a separate incident, an MSF hospital in Syria was struck this week, leaving at least 30 dead.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25

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