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U.S. Commander In Afghanistan Admits Mistakes In Kunduz Airstrike


The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said today a series of mistakes led to an American airstrike that killed at least 31 people in a hospital in the town of Kunduz. Gen. John Campbell briefed reporters on the October 3 bombing. With more, we're joined by NPR's Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman. Tom, you just heard what Gen. Campbell had to say about this strike that hit a hospital. Let's listen to some of it.


JOHN CAMPBELL: The medical facility was misidentified as a target by U.S. personnel who believed they were striking a different building several hundred meters away where there were reports of combatants.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: And as Gen. Campbell said, Linda, the real target was an intelligence building. They had been taken over by the insurgents a several hundred meters away. And the aircrew from the AC-130 didn't realize they were hitting the wrong target. There was a mistake with the coordinates. There was a mistake with their communications. But, Gen. Campbell said the bottom line was there was a lot of human error here.

WERTHEIMER: He - I guess the key word in that clip that we just played was misidentified. Was that the most serious mistake that - leading up to the airstrike?

BOWMAN: Yes, it was a very serious mistake. They were having troubles with their sensors on the aircraft, so when they got their coordinates, the coordinates showed a field, basically an empty field nearby, and the aircrew basically went to the closest building that looked like the target, and that turned out to be the hospital. But it's important to note that there was no fire coming from the hospital. There was no one shooting at them, so that's one question we didn't get an answer to. Why would you be shooting at a target if no one's firing at you? And one of the most troubling parts of this was this attack, Linda, took place at 2:08 in the morning, at 2:20, the Doctors Without Borders call from the hospital saying, we're under attack. And it took another 17 minutes for commanders to realize they made a mistake. By that time, unfortunately, the attack was over. Thirty staff members and patients were killed. Another 37 were wounded.

WERTHEIMER: Is some - will anything change for American troops in Afghanistan after this investigation, searching through what happened?

BOWMAN: Well, Gen. Campbell said, first of all, a number of people have been suspended from their duties. They'll look at disciplinary action. Gen. Campbell said he put some new procedures in place to make sure this doesn't happen again. He called it a tragedy, mostly due to human error. So he said - and, of course, he couldn't get into the specifics of the changes because, you know, some of these, of course, are classified. But he basically said, this shouldn't have happened, and we'll make sure it just doesn't happen again.

WERTHEIMER: So he'll put - these folks will have to go through new routines, presumably more stringent ones.

BOWMAN: Well, one would think. And again, those responsible have been suspended from their duties, and there'll be disciplinary action against them. But he'll make sure that the procedures...


BOWMAN: ...The right procedures have to be followed in the future, he said.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman, Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.