Kunduz hospital attack result of human error and equipment failure, U.S. general says

A U.S. gunship attack on a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 42 people occurred because of human errors, process errors and equipment failures and none of the crew knew they were striking a trauma centre, a top U.S. general said Friday.

Doctors Without Borders will not yet resume its work in the region, medical charity says

A U.S. airstrike in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz last fall destroyed a hospital run by medical charity Doctors Without Borders and killed 22 people. (Andrew Quilty, Foreign Policy)

A U.S. gunship attack on a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 42 people occurred because of human errors, process errors and equipment failures and none of the crew knew they were striking a trauma centre, a top U.S. general said Friday.

No criminal charges have been levelled against U.S. military personnel for mistakes that resulted in last's year's attack on the civilian hospital in Afghanistan operated by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders.

The group has called the attack "relentless and brutal" and a war crime.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the new head of U.S. Central Command, said that the trauma centre was on a no-strike list but that the gunship crew didn't have access to the list.

The Pentagon was releasing the full report on the investigation on Friday, including details about what exactly led a U.S. Air Force special operations AC-130 gunship to bomb the hospital and how those mistakes were made.

Injured Doctors Without Borders staff are seen after explosions near their hospital in Kunduz on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Sixteen American military personnel were disciplined because of the attack. (Doctors Without Borders/Associated Press)

According to one senior U.S. official, a two-star general was among about 16 American military personnel disciplined because of the attack. A number of those punished are U.S. special operations forces.

No one was sent to court-martial, officials said. However, in many cases, a nonjudicial punishment, such as a letter of reprimand or suspension, can effectively end a military career.

The U.S. airstrike in the northern city of Kunduz last October was carried out by one of the most lethal aircraft in the U.S. arsenal.

The crew of the AC-130, which is armed with side-firing cannons and guns, had been dispatched to hit a Taliban command center in a building about 400 metres from the hospital, the U.S. military said in November. Hampered by problems with their targeting sensors, the crew relied on a physical description that led them to begin firing at the hospital even though they saw no hostile activity there.

Medical staff withdrawn

Doctors Without Borders withdrew its staff from Kunduz after the bombing, which killed 14 people working for the medical charity at the time.

Although the organization said it was pleased the U.S. military looked into the attack, a news released issued Friday said the charity still wants to see the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission conduct an independent investigation. That commission's sole purpose is to probe potential breaches of international and humanitarian law.

The lack of meaningful accountability sends a worrying signal to warring parties.- Doctors Without Borders statement

The release of the U.S. report does not, however, mean that Doctors Without Borders will resume their work in the region.

"We can't put our teams – including our colleagues who survived the traumatic attack – back to work in Kunduz without first having strong and unambiguous assurances from all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan that this will not happen again," the charity's president, Meinie Nicolai said in a statement Friday. 

The statement also noted that the "administrative punishments" — referring to the fact that no one faced a court martial — seem disproportionate to the loss of both 42 lives and critical medical services.

"The lack of meaningful accountability sends a worrying signal to warring parties, and is unlikely to act as a deterrent against future violations of the rules of war," the statement says.

Doctors Without Borders pulled out of Kunduz after the attack, which it has called a war crime. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A separate U.S. report on the incident, obtained last fall by The Associated Press, said the AC-130 aircraft fired 211 shells at the hospital compound over 29 minutes before commanders realized the mistake and ordered a halt.

Doctors Without Borders officials contacted coalition military personnel during the attack to say the hospital was "being bombed from the air," and the word finally was relayed to the AC-130 crew, the report said.

The attack came as U.S. military advisers were helping Afghan forces retake Kunduz, which had fallen to the Taliban on Sept. 28. It was the first major city to fall since the Taliban were expelled from Kabul in 2001.

Afghan officials claimed the hospital had been overrun by the Taliban, but no evidence of that has surfaced. The hospital was destroyed and Doctors Without Borders — also known by its French acronym MSF — ceased operations in Kunduz.

With files from CBC News