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Report: 16 to Get Reprimand for Kunduz Hospital Airstrike

Fires burn in part of the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kanduz, Afghanistan, after it was hit by an air strike on October 3, 2015 Photo: Medecins Sans Frontieres via Agence France Press
Fires burn in part of the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kanduz, Afghanistan, after it was hit by an air strike on October 3, 2015 Photo: Medecins Sans Frontieres via Agence France Press

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A redacted copy of an investigation into the U.S. airstrike that killed 42 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in northern Afghanistan will be released Friday, according to media reports.

No one involved in the strike on the hospital last October is expected to be court-martialed, but more than a dozen Americans will receive letters of reprimand, according to the Los Angeles Times. The 16 U.S. servicemembers found at fault include a two-star general and Air Force and Army special forces personnel, the Times reported, citing U.S. officials who discussed the internal investigation on condition of anonymity.

A letter of reprimand is an administrative punishment that indicates misbehavior and can block promotions or have career-ending consequences. It does not involve criminal charges.

Doctors Without Borders, which goes by its French initials MSF, has called the attack on the hospital a war crime and has repeatedly called for an independent inquiry.

"We still think that it would obviously be best to have an independent investigation," said Kate Stegeman, a spokeswoman for the group in Kabul. She said MSF had not gotten any feedback from the U.S.

Gen. Joseph Votel, who is now head of U.S. Central Command but was in charge of U.S. special forces at the time of the attack on the hospital, is expected to announce the punishments Friday at the Pentagon, the Times reported. Afterward, the redacted investigation report will be posted on the command's website.

In an email Thursday, Defense Department spokesman Chris Sherwood said no official announcement had been made on a release or a briefing. "More information will be available soon," he said.

The hospital airstrike occurred as Afghan forces battled Taliban insurgents, who had overrun Kunduz on Sept. 28, 2015, and briefly held the city of 300,000.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 3, the airstrike on the hospital killed 14 staff members, 24 patients and four caretakers, MSF said late last year.

In the days after the attack, President Barack Obama apologized, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he would hold personnel accountable if an investigation showed U.S. culpability in the airstrike.

In March, shortly after taking charge of the forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson apologized for the destruction of the hospital and the many deaths caused by the airstrike.

"I grieve with you for your loss and suffering, and humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness," he told the people of Kunduz during a visit there with his wife last month.

A November Pentagon investigation, one of at least three performed in the wake of the attack, said the incident was the result of "avoidable human error, compounded by process and equipment failures." Investigators found that a series of errors led the American forces to confuse the hospital with an Afghan intelligence headquarters building reportedly occupied by Taliban fighters.

MSF officials called that report's findings, "shocking" and said it left many unanswered questions.

The organization conducted its own investigation, which concluded that there were no armed combatants in the hospital at the time of the airstrike and no fighting "from or in the direct vicinity" of the facility. MSF has also said it had informed all armed groups involved in the conflict of its GPS coordinates and its neutrality under international humanitarian law.

The group has repeatedly called for an independent inquiry by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, a permanent body set up under the Geneva Conventions to investigate apparent violations of international humanitarian law. More than 550,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Obama administration to consent to the commission's investigation.

In a separate report last December, U.N. investigators found nothing to indicate the hospital had done anything to lose its protected status under international law. Even if U.S. troops did not knowingly target the hospital, they still could have committed war crimes if they did not take precautions to protect civilians, the report said.

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