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U.S. Soldiers Involved In Afghan Hospital Strike Said Punished

MSF staff and Afghan military personnel stand outside the entrance to the bombed hospital in Kunduz on October 15, 2015.
MSF staff and Afghan military personnel stand outside the entrance to the bombed hospital in Kunduz on October 15, 2015.

The U.S. military has disciplined at least 10 soldiers for mistakes that led to the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan that killed 42 people last year, officials say.

The punishments, which do not involve jail or criminal charges, have not been announced publicly, but they were disclosed by defense officials to the Associated Press and AFP on March 17.

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