WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2015 —
The investigation into the U.S. airstrike that struck a hospital in
Kunduz, Afghanistan, will be thorough and objective, the commander of NATO’s
Resolute Support mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan told a Senate panel
Army Gen. John F. Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee
that the United States provided close-air support at the request of Afghan
national defense forces on Oct. 3.
"A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never
intentionally target a protected medical facility," the general said.
Campbell said U.S. special operations forces were providing
training, advice and assistance to Afghan national defense forces who were engaged
in a "tenacious fight" with the Taliban.
More than 20 people were killed in the airstrike that hit a hospital
used by the international aid group Doctors Without Borders.
The deaths were "tragic loss of lives," Campbell said. The
United States makes extraordinary efforts to protect civilians, he said.
Issues Statement on Kunduz Hospital Strike
And in a statement issued today following
Campbell’s appearance before the Senate panel, Defense Secretary Ash Carter reiterated
that the airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders field hospital was a mistaken
“Doctors Without Borders does
important work all around the world, and the Department of Defense deeply
regrets the loss of innocent lives that resulted from this tragic event,”
Carter said in his statement. “The investigation into how this could have
happened is continuing, and we are fully supporting NATO and Afghanistan's
“We will complete our investigation
as soon as possible and provide the facts as they become available,” Carter
continued. “The U.S. military takes the greatest care in our operations to
prevent the loss of innocent life, and when we make mistakes, we own up to
them. That's exactly what we're doing right now. Through a full and transparent
investigation, we will do everything we can to understand this tragic incident,
learn from it, and hold people accountable as necessary.”
Campbell emphasized during his appearance before the Senate panel
today that "no military in history has done more to avoid harming
innocents. We readily assume greater risks to our own forces in order to
The Department of Defense, NATO and the Afghans are all investigating
the airstrike, Campbell said.
The record of the United States is in stark contrast to the actions
of the Taliban, who have "repeatedly violated the laws of war by
intentionally targeting civilians," Campbell said. "The United
Nations attributes more than 70 percent of the non-combatants killed and
wounded in this war to the Taliban."
"Afghanistan is at a critical juncture, and so is our
campaign," Campbell said.
The current fighting season in Afghanistan is fundamentally
different than past years, the general said, explaining that Afghan forces were
"totally on their own" after the United States transitioned from
combat operations to an advisory role.
"Intense combat continues in many parts of the country,"
Campbell said. "The Afghan security forces have been severely tested this
year, but they continue to fight hard."
Since February, the fighting has been nearly continuous, he said.
"Casualties on both sides have risen and the violence has
moved beyond the traditional insurgent strongholds," Campbell said.
There have been setbacks, the general said, including when the
Taliban recently overran Kunduz city.
"Still, the Afghan security forces rallied and they've
regained control of most of the cities, just as they've successfully retaken
other ground temporarily lost throughout this fighting season," he said.
But the "inconsistent performance" of the Afghan security
forces in Kunduz underscores some of their shortcomings, Campbell said.
"They must improve their intelligence fusion, command and
control [and] utilization of their forces. They don't possess the necessary
combat power and numbers to protect every part of the country," he said.
Afghan forces also face capability gaps in fixed and rotary wing
aviation, combined arms, intelligence and maintenance, the general said.
But, Campbell said, despite the challenges, the Afghan security
forces have displayed courage and resilience.
Failure in the mission, he said, would result in Afghanistan
becoming a sanctuary for terrorists "bent on attacking our interests and
citizens abroad and at home."
President Barack Obama is aware of the "tenuous security
situation" in Afghanistan, Campbell said.
Campbell told senators he would also "like to discuss the
sexual exploitation of children by a few members of the Afghan security
The exploitation of children is "reprehensible," the general
said. "This criminal practice is entirely unacceptable and unacceptable to
the Afghans as well."
The U.S. human rights policy, Campbell explained, requires U.S.
personnel to report any suspected human rights violations committed by the
Afghan security forces, including the sexual abuse of children.
"We'll do everything within our power to defend and protect
human rights. That's our moral obligation to you, the American people and
ourselves," he said.
U.S., Afghan Forces
"Since 2001, the exceptional efforts and courage of our forces
have ensured that another terrorist attack originating from Afghanistan and
directed against the U.S. homeland has not occurred," he said.
Military families are the "unsung heroes" of the last 14
years, Campbell said.
"Without their love and support, we could not succeed,"
The general honored the more than 2,200 servicemen and women who
have been killed in Afghanistan and the more than 20,000 who have been wounded.
"Tragically, we lost 14 personnel to include six airmen and
four contractors -- U.S. contractors -- last Friday in an aircraft
mishap," he said.
"We always remember the Afghans in our own fallen and the
loved ones they left behind," he said. "Every day we honor their
memories by assisting the Afghans to build a stable and secure country and by
protecting our homeland."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD