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HRW Blasts U.S. 'Punishment' Of Soldiers Involved In Afghan Hospital Strike

The damaged interior of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, following bombardment by U.S. forces.
The damaged interior of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, following bombardment by U.S. forces.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly criticized U.S. "punishments" handed to officers involved in a deadly bombing raid on an Afghan hospital last year.

The U.S. military has disciplined at least 10 soldiers for mistakes that led to the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in the northern province of Kunduz that killed 42 people.

But the punishments did not involve jail or criminal charges.

In a statement released on March 18, the New York-based rights group said the failure to criminally investigate the officers was an "injustice and insult" to the victims.

"The failure to criminally investigate senior officials liable for the attack is not only an affront to the lives lost at the MSF hospital, but a blow against the rule of law in Afghanistan and elsewhere," the statement said.

The disciplinary actions followed a military investigation of the devastating October 3, 2015, bombardment that largely destroyed the hospital in Kunduz and killed many of the doctors and patients there.

"I can tell you that those individuals most closely associated with the incident have been suspended from their duties and were referred for administrative action," Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told AFP.

Some of the soldiers and officers received letters of reprimand that were tough enough to end their chances for further promotion, while others were suspended from duties.

Ryder said officers could be removed from command for their involvement.

The incident provoked an international outcry and prompted the French doctors' group to permanently close the hospital, which had provided vital services to the region not available elsewhere.

The doctors group called the attack "relentless and brutal" and demanded an international investigation. It was carried out by one of the most lethal weapons in the U.S. arsenal, a U.S. Air Force special operations AC-130 gunship.

U.S. President Barack Obama apologized for the unintended killings, which occurred as U.S. military advisers were helping Afghan forces retake Kunduz after its takeover by the Taliban the previous month.

Some Afghan officials claimed the hospital had been overrun by the Taliban, but no evidence of that ever surfaced.

The U.S. military told AP that the gunship was dispatched to hit a Taliban command center in a different building not far from the hospital. When its targeting sensors malfunctioned, soldiers relied on a physical description of the building that led them to fire at the hospital.

U.S. officials acknowledged to AP that they missed opportunities to avoid the error, as they got repeated calls from the hospital staff pleading with them to stop the attack, which they said lasted a half-hour.

The U.S. military investigation has been completed but never released. The Pentagon is due to publish a version of its report on the attack next week.

At a November news conference, Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, a spokesman for the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the actions taken by the U.S. aircrew were "not appropriate" to the threat they faced, suggesting that a number of them could be found at fault and disciplined.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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