Officials: Hospital in Kunduz mistaken for Taliban site

Story highlights

  • The October 3 mission had several technical and human errors, the officials said
  • The aircraft was supposed to be targeting a nearby compound suspected of housing Taliban gunmen, not the hospital

Washington (CNN)A U.S. airstrike that mistakenly killed 22 people at a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan last month was, in part, the result of military personnel targeting the hospital compound instead of a suspected nearby site from which Taliban fighters were firing, several administration officials told CNN Tuesday.

The October 3 mission had several technical and human errors, said the officials, who would not elaborate. A U.S. military fact-finding investigation into the incident details the mistakes and reveals that the aircraft was supposed to be targeting a nearby compound suspected of housing Taliban gunmen, not the hospital, they said.
Gen. John Campbell, the top NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will take the unusual step on Wednesday of releasing a brief summary of the investigation's conclusions. The step is unusual because this type of release of information typically does not happen until the military determines if any military personnel will be disciplined or charged with wrongdoing.
    Campbell has consulted his legal staff and is expected to keep the information very brief. But an official familiar with his thinking said that although authorities are still determining any potential disciplinary action, Campbell believes the incident is serious and has garnered so much public attention it warrants this step.
    It will now be up to Campbell to decide whether to take further action himself or refer the matter to various military services that oversaw the troops involved. He could also decide to take no action.
    The Pentagon has already concluded the Doctors Without Borders group that ran the facility had followed all proper procedures in notifying the U.S. of the location of the hospital. The group "did everything right," a U.S. official said last month.
    Hospitals, like schools and mosques, are prohibited from being attacked by the U.S. military even if there may be militants present. Doctors Without Borders has consistently said there were no Taliban fighters at the hospital on October 3 and that it was a particularly quiet night that followed several days of clashes.
    Early last month, the Taliban had taken control of Kunduz and Afghan forces were battling them back. The U.S., under current rules of engagement, does not strike Taliban formations unless Afghan security forces are about to be overrun. That night, there were reports of gunfire in the area, which led to a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship being called in. The hospital came under repeated attack even though the medical staff called U.S. military contacts urging them to stop their fire as the attack unfolded.
    Doctors Without Borders has said the hospital came under attack for an hour.
    What the military has not yet said is how the hospital was mistaken for the intended target and whether any military personnel involved in the operation knew or believed they were attacking a hospital, or whether they thought it was a different compound manned by the Taliban.