WASHINGTON — The initial findings of an investigation into a U.S. airstrike against a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan have concluded that the U.S. government was aware the site was a hospital, two U.S. officials told CNN Friday. But that information did not get passed to the correct military personnel, they said.
The officials declined to be identified because the investigation remains ongoing, and both emphasized the initial information could still change as the investigation proceeds. But Doctors Without Borders (MSF), who ran the hospital, “did everything right in informing us,” one of the officials said. The location of the hospital “was in the military database” of restricted sites such as hospitals, mosques and schools that U.S. pilots are not allowed to strike even if insurgents are present.
Military investigators are reviewing all available audio tapes and other technical data that may have passed from a command center to the air crew, and also to a special operations forces unit on the ground that was talking to the plane.
Investigators are also looking at whether the crew may have voiced concern about engaging any target in that area of Kunduz since it did not appear to meet the criteria for U.S. airstrikes. Under the “rules of engagement” strikes are permitted to protect U.S. forces, to hit targets associated with al Qaeda or to prevent mass casualties among Afghan forces.
There had been reports of Taliban at the hospital, but that does not override the rules of engagement or the fact that as a hospital, it was a protected target.
“There is nothing to indicate the people who made the ultimate decision to pull the trigger knew it was a hospital,” one of the officials said. The official couldn’t say who ultimately authorized the strike, but said the point is the initial results show they did not initiate the attack knowing it was a hospital and override the restrictions because there were potential Taliban there.
“The idea we did this knowing it was a protected facility but there were bad guys there is preposterous,” the official said.
A U.S. defense official confirmed that someone from MSF called someone they knew on the Joint Staff during the attack, telling them the hospital was being hit. The defense official said the information received on that call “was quickly put into our system. Beyond that I can’t say where it went, but that the information on that and other phone calls have now been passed to the investigators.”
MSF is asking for an independent investigation. Jason Cone, the organization’s U.S. executive director, told CNN, “It’s one of the most clear-cut cases that we can think of where the laws of war were violated, where a protected medical structure should have been protected, was instead it was bombed, and for us, it’s really one of the gravest incidents we’ve faced in our organization in 44 years and that’s why we’ve asked for this independent inquiry by the humanitarian fact-finding commission.”
Cone said an armored vehicle full of investigators arrived unannounced Thursday at the hospital facility and crashed through its gates. In a statement, MSF said the investigators destroyed “potential evidence.”