The U.S. air strike against a Doctors Without Borders facility that killed at least 30 people last month has been ruled ‘human error’ by the U.S. Defense Department, CNN reported today.
In a statement released today, the U.S. Defense Department detailed the investigation into the strike, the miscommunication that led up to it, and ultimately the “human errors” that caused the tragic loss of life for Doctors Without Borders patients and staff.
“It’s a combination of factors,” a Defense Department official told CNN.
The full investigation report fills over 3,000 pages, but it all boils down to human error and military personnel aiming at the wrong target, the report says.
A building near the hospital was the initial target, from which Taliban fighters were firing on U.S. forces, the Defense Department reports.
“The proximate cause of this tragedy was the direct result of avoidable human error compounded by process and equipment failures. US forces would never intentionally strike a hospital,” General John Campbell said in a press conference in Kabul today.
The report released today details that U.S. forces were unaware that the Doctors Without Borders hospital was mistakenly in their crosshairs. It was only after the initial strike that U.S. forces were informed of the deadly error.
One minute prior to firing from the AC-130 gunship, pilots and crew confirmed the coordinates they’d been given, but because of an equipment failure, the crew wasn’t warned of the error, that the coordinates were on the “no-strike” list.
Ten minutes into the strike, Doctors Without Borders staff contacted U.S. forces to let them know they were under attack by an unknown aircraft. But once again, partially due to equipment failure, the information wasn’t relayed to the AC-130 gunship for another 17 minutes, by which time the strike was finished and 30 patients and staff were dead.
“Some of the US individuals did not follow the rules of engagement,” Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner said in the same press conference today, admitting that while equipment failure played a significant role in the strike, it was not solely to blame.
Human error was a contributing factor, and the U.S. Defense Department has come down hard on those responsible.
Mistakes followed mistakes, the New York Times reports, beginning before the AC-130 gunship ever left the ground.
“Crucial mission materials, including a no-strike list that would have determined the coordinates of the hospital,” were not given to the pilots or crew of the gunship, General Campbell told the New York Times.
Part of the human error involved in the fatal strike against the hospital was the AC-130 crew’s fixation on the physical description of the target, rather than the coordinates themselves. The navigation and targeting system was offline for part of the flight but came online just after the strike began. If the crew had confirmed the coordinates with their grid system, General Campbell said, they’d have realized they were firing on a target on the no-strike list.
Additionally, U.S. Special Operations Forces on the ground, who were called on to confirm the strike’s target, were unable to get “eyes on” the nearby Taliban stronghold. This is due to the heavy fighting in the area, which had intensified in recent months as a result of the Taliban making significant gains against NATO and Afghan security forces.
During the press conference today, General Campbell confirmed that individuals responsible for the mistakes have been suspended pending further investigation and punitive action, but he has not confirmed their identities, nor the role they played in the strike.
President Obama apologized for the strike shortly after it occurred, and Doctors Without Borders continues to call for an independent investigation outside of the NATO military command.
[Photo by Getty Images]