US soldiers and airmen who killed dozens of civilians in a strike on an Afghan hospital violated the rules of engagement and have been suspended as they await disciplinary action, military officials said.
General John Campbell, the US commander in Afghanistan, described a series of human and technical failures as he briefed reporters on two investigations into why a US warplane mistakenly destroyed the hospital last month.
Gen Campbell and other officials did not say how many people had been removed from their jobs or whether those high up the chain of command will be subject to discipline.
Officials said the crew of an AC-130 gunship had been dispatched to hit a Taliban command centre in a different building, 450 yards away.
However, hampered by problems with their targeting sensors, the crew relied on a physical description that led them to begin firing at a hospital run by the Doctors Without Borders medical charity, even though they saw no hostile activity there.
Many chances to avert the error were missed, officials added.
Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner said: “We made a terrible mistake that resulted in unnecessary deaths.”
Gen Campbell and Brig Gen Shoffner said that neither the special forces commander who called in the strike at the request of Afghan forces, nor the air crew were aware that a hospital was being hit until it was too late.
They did not address claims by Afghan officials that the hospital had been overrun by the Taliban, but a summary of one of the investigations said there is no evidence to support that.
It also says there was no hostile activity observed at the hospital.
The plane fired 211 shells at the compound over 25 minutes before commanders realised the mistake and ordered a halt, according to the summary.
Doctors Without Borders contacted coalition military personnel during the attack to say its facility was “being ’bombed’ from the air”, and the word was finally relayed to the AC-130 crew, the report said.
The attack on October 3 in the city of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, killed at least 31 civilians and injured 28 others.
Investigators determined that additional civilians probably were killed or injured.