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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Gen. Campbell in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Press Operations

General John F. Campbell, commander, U.S. forces in Afghanistan
October 5, 2015
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STAFF: Good morning. We are welcoming here General Campbell, who's the commander of Resolute Support Mission and U.S Forces-Afghanistan. He's only got time for a short statement and a few questions, so please understand our time limitations.

General Campbell?

GENERAL JOHN CAMPBELL: Thanks.

Well, thanks, everybody, for taking the time to be here on very short notice. I do have a prepared statement I'd like to read through here and then take a couple questions.

I'm going to take this opportunity to address the very serious and tragic circumstance of the airstrike that occurred in Kunduz on October, 3rd. My deepest condolences to those innocent civilizations who were harmed and killed on Saturday.

I echo the secretary's comments about the tremendous work that Doctors Without Borders conducts in Afghanistan and throughout the world. They have provided invaluable medical assistance to those most in need in Afghanistan.

As you know, the Taliban attacked the city Kunduz on September 28th. Afghan security forces have been fighting to remove the insurgents ever since. Unfortunately, the Taliban have decided to remain in the city and fight from within, knowingly putting civilians at significant risk or harm.

Our forces are in the area to provide training, advice and assistance to the Afghan forces. While our personnel are not directly engaged in the fighting, they're providing valuable support to the Afghans.

Afghanistan remains an area of active hostilities and our personnel continue to operate in harm's way. Therefore, they retain the inherent right of self-defense.

We have now learned that on October 3rd, Afghan forces -- that they were taking -- we have now learned that on October 3rd, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces. An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck.

This is different from initial reports which indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the airstrike was called on their behalf.

As has been reported, I've ordered a thorough investigation into this tragic incident and the investigation is ongoing. The Afghans have ordered the same. If errors were committed we'll acknowledge them, we'll hold those responsible accountable and we will take steps to ensure mistakes are not repeated.

We will await the outcome of the investigation to provide any additional updates and we will share the results of the investigation once it is complete.

As you know, the United States military takes extraordinary steps to avoid harm to civilians. However, the Taliban have purposefully chosen to fight from within a heavily urbanized area, purposely placing civilians in harm's way.

We will continue to take all necessary steps to avoid future civilian casualties.

Again, I want to offer my deepest condolences to those innocent civilians who were harmed and killed on Saturday.

In addition, I would be remiss if I did not offer my condolences to the crew and passengers of the C-130 aircraft that crashed on Friday, October 2nd. The six airmen who were lost in the accident will arrive at Dover today. These and all those who have fallen before them are the true heroes of our efforts in Afghanistan over the past 14 years.

And I'll take a few questions.

Mik, please.

Q: General, your revelation that it was the Afghans that advised the Americans -- have you ordered a suspension or change in the current rules of engagement?

GEN. CAMPBELL: I won't go into current or past rules of engagement, but I would tell you that our men and women continue to understand the rules of engagement, follow those rules of engagement. This was a case -- again, more will come out from the investigation; that's why we have these investigations.

I have had the opportunity to talk to the investigating officer, Brigadier General Rich Kim, who is up in Kunduz now. That's why I pass out this additional information and again, I want to be able to let the investigation go its course and then provide updates based on that.

But I have not suspended -- I have not suspended train, advise and assist support to the Afghans.

Q: Do those rules of engagement allow for the Afghans to call in American airstrikes? And what kind of fall back or failsafe system is there in that process?

GEN. CAMPBELL: I appreciate the question.

Again, I don't want to go into those great details yet until we get the -- the investigation. And I don't want to cover the rules of engagement in this format at this point in time.

But those will come out as we go through the investigation. We'll make sure -- those are the same type of questions that I know everybody would want to ask, and those will come out in the investigation.

Q: One final question general, if I could.

Does this raise doubts, does this bring into question the current strategy to train the Afghans? Do they have the ability to take over that fight? And does it raise questions about the current timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops?

GEN. CAMPBELL: Yeah, I -- yeah, I'm back here in Washington to testify to Congress. I'll take those questions from Congress.

Again, I've been very public that the Afghan security forces continue to get better and better, and I'm very proud and honored to serve with them three times in Afghanistan. Where they were just a couple of years ago to where they are today is pretty astounding. And I think that they continue to be very, very resilient and they continue to need our support in areas that we've identified years ago that would be very, very tough for any army: intelligence, logistics, fire support.

So we'll continue to work with our Afghan partners, continue trying to advise and assist. And again, I'm back in Washington to talk about those same subjects.

Barbara?

Q: Just to clarify, so you were saying a couple of points. There were no U.S. special -- no U.S. troops on the ground, at risk, in extremis at the time this strike was called in, is that what you're telling us?

GEN. CAMPBELL: What I said was that the Afghan forces called in for fire to support them because they were under direct fire and that we have Afghan -- correction, we have U.S. special forces that continue to train, advise and assist at the tactical level.

But I think the impression that people got after the first couple days is they were firing directly on U.S. forces, and what I'm telling you today is as I've talked to the investigating officer, as we continue to get updated information, that that was not the case in this place here.

Q: Although you don't want to talk about rules of engagement, I understand that, is there anything you can factually tell us -- pardon me -- about U.S. troops, U.S. air crews and the rules that they do operate under to not strike restricted targets such as hospitals, mosques and schools?

People have a lot of curiosity about this and it's generally understood those are targets that you do not strike. Can you talk about that just --

GEN. CAMPBELL: Again, very broadly, we do not strike those kind of targets, absolutely.

Q: General Campbell, lots of interest in the airplane that was used. Was it an AC-130 gunship or was it a fixed-wing dropping bombs?

GEN. CAMPBELL: I think it's been reported that it was an AC-130 gunship. That in fact was what it was.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: General Campbell did you authorize -- excuse me -- did you authorize this airstrike? Whose initials are on the authorization? Does an American have to authorize for an AC-130 to strike?

GEN. CAMPBELL: That will come out in the investigation, Jennifer.

Q: And also, was this an RFL? Was it a restrictive firing line?

GEN. CAMPBELL: Again, I'm not going to go into those kind of details. We'll wait for the investigation to come out with that.

Q: General, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders are calling this almost a war crime. They're demanding an independent investigation because they're saying this -- having this go through military channels is not going to provide enough information on the details. What are your thoughts on that? Would you recommend an independent investigation?

GEN. CAMPBELL: Well, first off, we're going to do everything we can in this case to be open and transparent. I've got both U.S. 15-6 investigation, I've got a NATO investigation and the Afghans will be conducting an investigation.

If there's other investigations out there that need to go on, I'll make sure that we coordinate those as well. But I won't go into those details here.

Q: General, what does this mean for your rules of engagement going forward in terms of air support in Afghanistan? Have you paused use of this aircraft? Have you paused airstrikes? Or is the war going to continue for your purposes as it was before this took place?

GEN. CAMPBELL: Again, I'm going to hold that question until we get through the investigation, all right? I don't want to go into rules of engagement at all, please.

Q: Thank you.

General, the group MSF has come out with a statement saying that they provided GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials as recently as Tuesday, September 29th. Did you receive those coordinates or were they relayed to by a third party? How did they factor into this target --

GEN. CAMPBELL: Those are some of the things that will be asked in the investigation and will come out in the investigation.

In the back please.

Q: Kim Dozier.

Sir, I wanted to ask, Medecin Sans Frontieres says that they were half an hour trying to get the coordinates and say "We are under fire" from both Washington and Kabul. Why didn't that get up the chain of the command faster?

GEN. CAMPBELL: Kim, again that's why we do these investigations. That will all come out in the investigation: very detailed explanation of what we know and what we don't know. All those questions that you're asking are the same type of questions that the investigating officer, General Kim, will ask as well.

Yes, sir.

Q: I just wanted to make it crystal clear. There were no U.S. JTACs under fire at the tactical level when this airstrike was called in?

GEN. CAMPBELL: What I said was that the Afghans asked for air support from a special forces team that we have on the ground providing train, advise and assist in Kunduz.

The initial statement that went out was that U.S. forces were under direct fire contact. What I'm doing is correcting that statement here.

Please. Good to see you again.

Q: Thank you. Good to see you too.

So, just so I understand this, U.S forces, how close were they to the ones -- to the Afghan forces that called in the strike? Were they with them at the time?

GEN. CAMPBELL: Again, that will come out in the investigation. I'm not going to go into those details.

All the questions you're asking are very good questions. They're the same questions that the investigating officer's taking a look at. I should have a preliminary report here very shortly in the next couple of days.

Again, General Rich Kim is my senior investigator. He's on the ground in Kunduz today. I had an opportunity to talk to him this morning. As I get additional information, we'll make sure we work through joint staff -- (inaudible).

I'll take now one more question in the back here please.

Q: General Campbell, would it have been more helpful to your forces and to the Afghans if an A-10 was flying overhead?

GEN. CAMPBELL: If an A-10 was flying overhead?

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. CAMPBELL: What I would tell you is our forces and the Afghan forces continue to work very hard to minimize any kind of civilian casualties. I'm not going to get into different kind of platforms, A-10 versus AC-130.

All of this, all the questions you asked are very good questions that will come out in the investigation. We'll be open and transparent with this. We'll make sure, again, that this is -- there's a U.S. piece of this, there's a NATO piece of it and the Afghans as well want to make sure they conduct their investigation. And we'll work together will all of them. And as soon as we have additional information that we can provide, I'll make sure that we provide that.

Thank you again very much.