At 2:08 a.m. on October 3, the fog of war and misguided fire from an AC-130 gunship killed 22 people at a hospital in Kunduz, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan told reporters Monday.
“Afghan forces advised they were taking fire,” said Gen. John Campbell, who leads the International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces-Afghanistan. “The Afghans asked for air support from a Special Forces team that we have on the ground providing train, advise and assist in Kunduz.”
Read Gen. Campbell’s full remarks here.
Campbell’s Pentagon statement belied original reports, which had indicated that U.S. forces were taking fire and had called in the strike. The general also confirmed that the deadly fire had come from an AC-130 gunship.
On Sept. 28, Taliban forces began to attack Kunduz, a city of about 300,000, and “Afghan security forces have been fighting to remove the Taliban ever since,” said Campbell. “The Taliban have decided to remain in the city and fight from within, knowingly putting civilians at significant risk of harm.”
Ten members of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, and 12 of their patients died in the strike, and 37 more people were injured. MSF has called for an independent investigation and said in a press release on Saturday that the strike took place “despite the fact MSF had provided the GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials as recently as Tuesday, September 29 to avoid that the hospital be hit. As is routine practice for MSF in conflict areas, MSF had communicated the exact location of the hospital to all parties of the conflict.”
When asked, Campbell wouldn’t say whether the coordinates had reached U.S. forces directly, had come through Afghan intermediaries, or what role it played in the decision to strike, if any. He offered only that it was the sort of question that Brig. Gen. Richard Kim, who has been put in charge of the Pentagon’s investigation into the incident, would himself be asking in the coming days.
Campbell also would not confirm or deny that U.S. Special Forces were operating with Afghan Forces at the time of the incident or in the vicinity. “We have U.S. Special Forces that continue to train, advise and assist at the tactical level,” he said. “The impression that people got after the first couple of days was that they [the Taliban] were firing directly on U.S. Forces… that was not the case.
Campbell offered his “deepest condolences to those innocent civilians who were killed on Saturday.” He further said that MSF does “tremendous work” in Afghanistan and around the world.
He also said the incident, tragic as it was, would not change the U.S. role in Afghanistan, at least not yet, and had not shaken his faith in the Afghan Security Forces, who “continue to get better and better,” he said. “We’ll continue to work with our Afghan partners, continue to train, advise and assist.”
MSF had treated 394 wounded since fighting broke out on Monday. Some 105 patients, caretakers and some 80 staff were in the hospital, the group said in their statement.
“This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law,” said Meinie Nicolai, MSF President, in a statement. “We demand total transparency from Coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage.’”