US Kunduz hospital airstrike
US Army General John Campbell, the commander of international and US forces in Afghanistan, speaks during a news conference at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, AfghanistanReuters

A US military inquiry has blamed "human error" for an air strike on a Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, as American authorities admitted that the tragedy could have been avoided. The attack on the MSF hospital on 3 October killed 30 people and sparked international condemnation of the US.

Calling the strike a "tragic mistake", the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, said those responsible would be punished. "The medical facility was misidentified as a target by US personnel who believed they were striking a different building several hundred metres away, where there were reports of combatants," he said at the Nato headquarters in Kabul.

Campbell added that special forces had been fighting for days in the war-torn country and were fatigued when they made the call. An AC-130 gunship mistook Kunduz MSF facility for a Taliban-controlled building several metres away. Kunduz had fallen under Taliban control just days before the US air strike.

The US general did not say what disciplinary action would be taken against the officers involved and did not contest MSF's claims that the medical charity provided the security forces with coordinates of the facility. He pointed out a cascading effect of technical, mechanical and procedural lapses, besides human error, that caused the tragedy.

Responding to the US findings, MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said: "It is shocking that an attack can be carried out when US forces have neither eyes on a target nor access to a no-strike list and have malfunctioning communications systems.

"The frightening catalogue of errors outlined today illustrates gross negligence on the part of US forces and violations of the rules of war. The destruction of a protected facility without verifying the target — in this case a functioning hospital full of medical staff and patients — cannot only be dismissed as individual human error or breaches of the US rules of engagement."

MSF, which has branded the incident as a war crime, reiterated its demand for an independent investigation. Most of the victims of the attack were either MSF staff or patients.