US military report admits attack on MSF hospital was an error

Charity welcomes publication but repeats call for an independent investigation into attack which killed 14 of its staff

A report into an attack on a trauma hospital in Afghanistan which killed 42 people – including 14 medical staff – has been published by the United States military.

The centre in Kunduz was being run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) when US jets carried out a bombing raid on October 3 last year in which an unspecified number of nurses died.

The report was published at the end of April but the charity only saw a copy online yesterday (Tuesday May 3) when it was made publicly available at a briefing by the head of US Central Command.

It confirms the attack happened in error and that there had been no intention to fire on a medical facility.

MSF president Meinie Nicolai welcomed the publication but said it would take time to fully analyse the details to determine whether all its questions had been answered.

She also insisted the attack was not an isolated incident and repeated her demand for an independent and impartial investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission.

She said: ‘Today’s briefing amounts to an admission of an uncontrolled military operation in a densely populated urban area, during which US forces failed to follow the basic laws of war.’

The charity also said the report backs up its own account of the day in which the hospital was fully functioning at the time of the airstrikes, with no armed combatants inside.

Ms Nicolai added: ‘The threshold that must be crossed for this deadly incident to amount to a grave breach of international humanitarian law is not whether it was intentional or not.

‘Armed groups cannot escape their responsibilities on the battlefield simply by ruling out the intent to attack a protected structure such as a hospital.’

MSF activities in the region have been suspended since the attack, as Ms Nicolai explained: ‘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 that this will not happen again.’

MSF has also learned that the victims and their families have neither the option to pursue legal action against the US military, nor to claim compensation for loss of life and livelihood.