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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Army General Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command

April 29, 2016
Army General Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command

GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL: Well, good morning, and thank you all for being here today.

I have a statement to provide and then I'll take your questions.

Today, U.S. Central Command is releasing the results of the investigation into the strike on the Doctors Without Borders trauma center in Kunduz City, Afghanistan, which occurred on October 3rd, 2015.

Let me first state again our deepest condolences to those injured and to the families of those killed in this tragic incident. I can assure you that we are committed to learning from this tragedy and minimizing the risk of civilian casualties during future combat operations.

As many of you know, General John Campbell, then the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander, directed the investigation into this incident and appointed U.S. Army Major General William Hickman as the lead investigator, along with two deputy investigating officers, U.S. Army Brigadier General Sean Jenkins and U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Robert Armfield.

These general officers were selected because of their years of professional experience and understanding of the complex operational environment in Afghanistan. They were also selected because they came from assignments outside of Afghanistan and could bring an objective and independent perspective to the investigation.

These officers and a supporting staff of more than a dozen associated subject-matter experts visited the Doctors Without Borders trauma center in Afghanistan and various other key locations in Kunduz City; interviewed more than 65 witnesses; and engaged each echelon of the command involved in this operation.

This was a thorough investigation done with painstaking attention to detail, followed by an in-depth review process.

The progress of the investigation was guided by a pursuit for an accurate account of the facts and contributing factors associated with the incident. Following his review, General Campbell approved the investigation on November 21st, 2015.

Subsequently, we were able to begin the process of redacting the more than 3,000 pages making up the report and its exhibits to ensure no classified or otherwise protected information was released, while remaining true to our commitment to be as transparent as possible regarding the investigation.

In line with this commitment, following today's briefing, U.S. Central Command will post the redacted investigation report to Central Command's Freedom of Information Act reading room website, which is accessible to the public.

Before I get to your questions, I'll briefly provide an overview of the investigation findings and outline the actions that have been taken to reduce the risk of a similar tragedy from occurring again in the future.

Importantly, the investigation concluded that the personnel involved did not know they were striking a medical facility. The intended target was an insurgent-controlled site which was approximately 400 meters from the Doctors Without Borders trauma center. The investigation found that an AC-130 gunship aircrew in support of a U.S. Special Forces element that was supporting an Afghan partner ground force misidentified and struck the Doctors Without Borders trauma center.

The investigation determined that all members of both the ground force and the AC-130 aircrew were unaware that the aircraft was firing on a medical facility throughout the engagement. The investigation ultimately concluded that this tragic incident was caused by a combination of human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures.

Understanding the context in which our forces were operating that evening is important. Leading up to this incident, U.S. Special Operations forces and their Afghan special operations partners had been engaged in intense fighting for several consecutive days and nights in Kunduz, and had repelled heavy and sustained enemy attacks.

The ground force was fatigued from days of fighting, still engaged with an aggressive enemy, and running low on supplies. In response to this urgent tactical situation, the AC-130 aircraft and crew launched from the space 69 minutes earlier than originally planned. As a result, the crew did not get all the preparatory information they would normally have received before a mission, to include identification of no-strike areas.

Their ability to receive this information while in flight was lost when one of their satellite radios failed. Shortly after arriving on the scene, the aircraft was fired on by a surface-to-air missile, and subsequently moved several miles away from the city center. From this distance, the aircrew received the grid coordinates of a Taliban-controlled building.

When the aircrew attempted to plot the coordinates of this enemy building, the system directed them to an open field, which was obviously not the correct location. The aircrew attempted to find the intended target in the nearby area. Instead, they found the Doctors Without Borders trauma center that generally matched the physical description of the building relayed over the radio by the ground force.

At this point, the aircrew mistakenly believed that the trauma center was the Taliban-controlled building, which was about a quarter-mile away. The investigation found that throughout the engagement that followed, the ground force commander and the aircrew mistakenly believed that the aircrew and aircraft was firing on the intended target.

I want to emphasize that the trauma center was a protected facility and was on a no-strike list. Our forces did not receive fire from the trauma center during the incident, nor did the investigation find that insurgents were using it as a base for operations.

Some insurgents were treated at the trauma center, but hospitals and patients are protected on the battlefield. The trauma center was a protected facility, but it was misidentified during this engagement.

The investigation concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the rules of engagement in the law of armed conflict. However, the investigation did not conclude that these failures amounted to a war crime.

The label war crimesis typically reserved for intentional acts -- intentional targeting of civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects or locations.

Again, the investigation found that the incident resulted from a combination of unintentional human errors, process errors and equipment failures, and that none of the personnel knew they were striking a hospital.

The investigation identified 16 U.S. service members, whose conduct warranted consideration for appropriate administrative or disciplinary action, including a general officer.

General Campbell took the action he deemed appropriate regarding 12 of the 16 personnel involved in this tragic incident, who were in Afghanistan, including the general officer.

The actions included suspension and removal from command, letters of reprimand, formal counseling and extensive retraining.

General Campbell also forwarded the investigation to me at U.S. Special Operations Command, where I was serving as the commander at the time, to consider action regarding the five personnel who had returned to the United States.

I subsequently took action with respect to four of these five personnel by issuing letters of reprimand and admonishment, and direction that the flight crew be referred to a U.S. Air Force flight evaluation board to assess their suitability for future flight duties.

I referred the fifth service member to Lieutenant General Ken Tovo, the commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, who issued a written reprimand and directed recertification in the service members' job specialty.

It is important to point out that these adverse administrative actions can carry severe repercussions on the careers and professional qualification of these individuals, that could include denial of promotion or advancement, and possible -- denial of promotion or advancement, and possible separation from the service.

In light of the report's conclusion that the errors committed were unintentional, and after considering other mitigating factors, such as the intense combat situation and equipment failures that affected the mission, from a senior commander's perspective, the measures taken against these individuals were appropriate to address the errors they made.

Let me add that we are not publicly releasing the names of these service members to protect the privacy of the individuals, and because some of them remain assigned to overseas, sensitive, or routinely deployable units.

In addition to these personnel accountability actions, General Campbell also ordered supplemental training for U.S. forces in Afghanistan on the Applicable Authorities Framework, rules of engagement and the commander's tactical guidance -- all of which are designed to minimize the risk that a tragedy like this would occur.

This training was delivered to over 9,000 personnel and completed in November of 2015. We also directed a comprehensive review of the targeting process, and published an order reinforcing the application of the no-strike list.

Aircraft systems are now preloaded with key information, including the no-strike list database, to minimize the reliance on post-launch communications.

General Campbell also issued a revised tactical directive and targeting standard operating procedure to address this situation.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan also provided the leadership of Doctors Without Borders with the means to facilitate direct contact with our command centers.

And today, Secretary of Defense Carter will release a memo directing all of the services and senior commanders to take a series of corrective actions as a result of Kunduz.

His guidance is clear: We must learn from this tragedy and take steps to reduce the risk of similar incidents in the future.

Before I conclude, I'd also like to highlight that we have made it a priority to engage with Doctors Without Borders and the Afghan government to keep them updated and to offer our support where we can. Senior U.S. Government and Central Command representatives, including me, have spoken with Doctors Without Borders officials, including the organization's executive director, over two dozen times to express our condolences, explain how this tragic incident occurred, and outline our future steps.

Additionally, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan leaders have offered their sympathies and provided condolence payments to more than 170 individuals and families affected by this tragedy. These modest payments are not designed to compensate the victims or place a value on their lives, but are a gesture of sympathy.

And the Department of Defense has approved $5.7 million in funds to construct a comparable structure in Kunduz that is suitable for use as a medical facility.

In conclusion, we are deeply saddened that this tragedy occurred and again offer our sincerest condolences to all of those who were affected. We are committed to learning from the mistakes that were made and will work hard to train and put systems in place that reduce the risk of such an accident occurring again in the future.

I'll be happy to take your questions now.

STAFF: (inaudible) -- Bob Burns from A.P.

Q: General Votel, Bob Burns with A.P.

On the matter of accountability, given the number of mistakes and the severity of the consequences, and despite the fact that, as you said, these actions were unintentional, could you explain in your own words why this did not amount to negligence, warranting more severe punishment?

And also, could you in your own words explain why this is not a war crime?

GEN. VOTEL: Right. So let me take the last part of your question first here. And as I mentioned in my remarks here, by the interpretation here, the legal interpretation and our understanding of this, the fact that this was unintentional -- an unintentional action takes it out of the realm of actually being a deliberate war crime against persons or protected locations.

So that is the principal reason why we do not consider this to be a war crime.

To your earlier -- the earlier part of your question, I personally expended a great amount of effort and time in adjudicating the cases that were provided to me. I had the opportunity to review the investigation in great detail. I consulted with my legal advisers. I consulted with my chain of command on both the Army and the Air Force side. And I personally met with the four officers that I adjudicated against.

And what I concluded after that was that this was an extraordinarily intense combat situation. The ground force commander, as I mentioned in my remarks, and his force had been engaged for about four days in pretty intense combat. And up to the time of this particular strike, had been actually fighting at the location where they were.

So this was an extraordinarily intense situation. They were doing a variety of actions at the same time. They were trying to support their Afghan partners. They were trying to execute resupply operations, and they were trying to defend themselves. So the picture I'm painting for you is a very intense situation on the ground.

The aircrew, as I mentioned, arrived over Kunduz; shortly after arriving there, was engaged by a surface-to-air missile. That's a very significant thing. That does not happen very often in Afghanistan. And so they took the appropriate measures; got off-station, and it just so happens that the coordinates for this location were passed while they were offset. Due to some kind of technical aspect of the system, it flew to a location that was obviously not the right one. And they went through the process of communicating between air and ground to do their best to identify where the location was.

They ultimately arrived at the wrong -- the wrong location. And so, in my evaluation of that, and as I talked to each of these individuals that were involved, their intention was true. They were absolutely trying to do the right thing; they were trying to support our Afghan partners; there was no intention on any of their parts to take a short cut, or to violate any rules that were laid out for them. And they were attempting to do the right thing.

Unfortunately, they made a wrong judgment in this particular case, and ended up targeting this Doctors Without Borders facility.

STAFF: David Martin.

Q: General, you -- the written statement here talks about one of the -- the fifth service member who was referred to you. You referred that case to the commander of Army Special Operations Command.

And he was directed to -- he was recertified. Does that mean he was -- this one officer who, I believe, is described in here as the ground commander. Was he kicked out of the Special Forces?

GEN. VOTEL: No. And let me just -- let me just correct some -- just let me state this.

The fifth member that I referred to, General Tovo, was an enlisted member, he was a noncommissioned officer. And in my estimations as I went through this, General Tovo had all of the right tools available to him to adjudicate this.

My interest as the SOCOM commander at the time was to specifically address the actions of the officers that were involved in this, that included the ground force commander and the three officers who were in the aircraft.

STAFF: Courtney.

Q: Hi, General. Courtney Kube with NBC News. Just a couple of clarifications.

The flight evaluation board for the aircrew, what did that determine? Since you're not providing their names, can you tell us, are they still flying?

GEN. VOTEL: To my knowledge, they -- and up until the time I had left SOCOM here, was a little over four weeks ago, they had not flown.

My understanding is that the flight evaluation board is in progress and it should be completed. I am not aware of -- that is an Air Force process, so I am not aware of what they have concluded from that.

Q: They haven't -- their boards are not complete? So what --

GEN. VOTEL: It is in the process of being completed.

Q: And then can you say how much the condolence payments is worth that you made?

GEN. VOTEL: The condolence payments that were made were $3,000 for wounded and $6,000 for those who were killed.

Q: And then finally, you mentioned that the ground commander, in the -- (inaudible), he had been fighting at that location for several days.

I think a lot of people would be sort of surprised to hear that, to hear that he was actively engaged in combat, in Afghanistan, when they are not supposed to be engaged in combat.

Can you explain that a little bit, what was --

GEN. VOTEL: Sure. Yeah, absolutely.

So, this element -- this special forces element, actually isn't -- wasn't permanently positioned up in Kunduz. They were actually in another location in Afghanistan.

And so, when -- when the situation in Kunduz, as a result of the Taliban attack that took place there, really presented a very significant security threat, he was directed by his chain of command to take his team and move up to Kunduz, and to link up with our partner, with an Afghan partner force on the ground.

And so, he did that. And so, he was very clearly in an advise and assist role there, but of course, they are in -- they are having to do that -- from locations that brought him under -- and him and his -- he and his team and the Afghans they were supporting, under -- under direct fire.

And so they were very much in an intense situation here.

STAFF: Patrick.

Q: Thanks. The report and its predecessor by John Campbell, list a number of critical problems with the AC-130 used communications system that you just alluded to -- some sort of technical problem that resulted in bad targeting after an evasive maneuver.

Are you undertaking any sort of audit or evaluation of the equipment on the AC-130 to see how systemic this? And also, are you undertaking any review of the policy that JTAC's eyes on-site aren't required before an AC-130 strike?

GEN. VOTEL: We always look at all of our processes. And we're in a constant -- constant effort to look at the things we're doing and ensure that they match the situations in which we're operating and they're applicable to it.

With respect to the aircraft, Air Force Special Operations Command, of course, has looked in great detail at -- at that particular problem. In my estimation, this was not a systemic problem. This was a failure at that point of this -- this specific radio system and antenna that is designed to receive data and transmit data to the ground.

So I am unaware that this is a systemic problem. It was a problem that night, obviously, that contributed to this issue right here.

With regard to the other part of your question on JTACs, the processes that we use, of course, do account for the fact of whether we can see the target that we see, or that we cannot. I remain confident in our procedures to do it either of those ways. So I do not foresee us changing anything with respect to those particular techniques and procedures that we use.

I think the key point that I would highlight to you here is that the procedures are good. What does need to -- what we do need to -- what we did learn from this is the very -- the significant importance of clear communication between the ground and the air. And that is a specific area that I in my previous role as the SOCOM commander, I really focused our commanders into, and one that we will continue to press on.

Q: Did the aircraft crew actually have a visual feed of the hospital and could see that there was no fire coming from the hospital?

GEN. VOTEL: Yes, but that's not unusual, frankly. As an individual who has looked at a lot of sensors and a lot of other things here, you don't always see fire coming from a building. So that in and of itself, the fact that they don't see fire coming from a building, which is very difficult to see, in my estimation, is not particularly unusual.

STAFF: Phil Stewart, and then Barbara.

Q: Hi, Phil Stewart from Reuters.

If you step back for a minute and you look at this -- you talk about the strain that these forces were under after four days of combat. And, you know, there's a very limited American footprint in Afghanistan compared to at other times. And there's plans right now to drawdown further.

What extent does this speak to the strain on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, given the variety of attacks that they've been asked to carry out. And to what extent does it add to concerns about potentially reducing that footprint further?

GEN. VOTEL: Well, I won't comment on any of those discussions that are ongoing in terms of what our force levels will be going forward here. But I would add that the capabilities that we have on the ground now that allow us to pursue our counterterrorism objectives and allow us to continue to work with our Afghan partners to advise-assist, I think are appropriate to what we have.

This, I would highlight to you, was an extreme situation. And I can't sit here and tell you we won't have more of those in the future, but this was an extreme situation that we were dealing with, in an area where we did not have a normal presence of American SOF forces.

STAFF: Barbara.

Q: General Votel, I actually wanted to follow up on that very point, because while it's not a direct comparison, you've actually had another incident with that battle down in the south, where the team had to remain out over night with wounded, because you were unable to get to them, though I know you had air support for them.

I guess the question is, you've now had two of these incidents where your teams are in the field, in extreme combat, running short of supplies -- is this still a risk? Are you satisfied with the risks right now, or do -- now that you've had two incidents, does it raise concerns for you and some adjustment in your mind?

And I have a quick follow up, sir.

GEN. VOTEL: Well, first off, I remain extraordinarily confident in our forces and in our leadership to make right decisions on the ground and to evaluate the risk factors associated with the missions that we are undertaking in support of the Afghans and make proper risk calls.

And so, this is a topic that we talk about incessantly in our training, in our preparations to deploy people about how we make these kinds of decisions, how we assess risk and how we do that.

Certainly, the fact that we don't have as many people on the ground now as we did several years ago does affect how we do things. And so, what it requires us to be is be more deliberate, be more thoughtful in how we are applying our forces and how we are managing the risk with that.

But in my estimation, I am -- remain very, very confident in our leadership's ability to do that.

Q: Can I ask you a quick ISIS followup? The president has said that he can no longer tolerate Raqqa and Mosul being centers of power for ISIS to plan attacks.

The secretary is now talking about having enough forces to -- Iraqi forces to envelope Mosul, having them assembled by the beginning of Ramadan.

What is your assessment about the ability to get moving against Mosul and Raqqa? And if you could meet the president's objective of not tolerating them, if you could get Mosul and Raqqa back out of ISIS' hands, what's your assessment on what that would do to ISIS?

GEN. VOTEL: I think my assessment is that it would be devastating to ISIS; it would take away one of their key pillars, and that is their ability to control terrain, which ultimately gives them the ability to govern and gives them the ability to control populations.

So, I -- the -- as the secretary as pointed out repeatedly, and others have pointed out, Raqqa and Mosul remain extraordinarily important objectives that we are focused on.

And there will be other areas that we will have to work on, as well. But those two are -- remain extraordinarily important to us.

STAFF: Tony, and then Dave.

Q: Yes, Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg.

I want to go back to the equipment question. The American public spends $100 billion a year on procurement. They expect the equipment to work. In your press release, you kind of lump it all today, process, human error and equipment failure.

If the equipment had worked -- this radio system -- if they had worked properly, would the -- the tragedy have been averted, in your view?

GEN. VOTEL: Well, possibly. Again, let me -- the equipment failure is that -- let's talk about equipment failures, here.

The first equipment failure we talked about was the radio system, the antenna system that prevented them from receiving digital information that would have told them of no strike areas and other things, and then would have been able -- allowed them to send a picture to the ground.

That's an important aspect, right there. And that -- that may have contributed to it. But I would also just remind you that, as the aircraft got up on station, it was engaged by a surface-to-air missile.

And so, they followed the proper procedures, got off station, and then were given the grids. And the angle -- again, I won't get into all of the technical aspects of this, but the angle at which they were trying to acquire that caused the system to come up with a wrong -- a wrong location.

So there -- I wouldn't point you to any specific thing that if we had not done this would have prevented this, but the combination of all of these things in an intense combat situation I think contributed to this very unfortunate accident.

Q: (inaudible) -- did not have a chronic mean-time between failure problem over the years that hadn't been fixed. This was an acute, one-time-only from what you saw?

GEN. VOTEL: Tony, I'm not aware of the mean-time between failure for this particular system right here. To me, it was not something that I'm aware of as a systemic problem that we have seen on these aircraft over a long period of time.

STAFF: Jamie, and then Jennifer.

Q: General, I just want to be clear that I understand the authority under which the strike was conducted. As it's been described to us at the Pentagon, the U.S. authorities in Afghanistan are limited; that airstrikes can be conducted to protect U.S. forces on the ground; to go after remnants of Al Qaida; and in cases where Afghan forces are in extremis.

Which of those criteria applied in this case? And can you explain why?

GEN. VOTEL: The ground force commander made the decision to conduct the strike under self-defense authority, because he considered himself and his -- by extension, the Afghan forces that were in his proximity and that he was supporting as part of his force. So he chose to apply the self-defense authorities to orchestrate the strike.

Q: If I could just follow up for a moment. So, in that scenario, and we've seen that several times in Afghanistan, it almost appears that commanders in Afghanistan are getting around the limitation against supporting Afghan forces in the field by simply embedding U.S. forces with them, and then authorizing the strike under the self-defense authority, rather than the -- which to get around the restriction against just helping the Afghans in their combat operations as they were trying to repel the Taliban attack. Is this a way to get around that restriction?

GEN. VOTEL: No, I don't think so. And I would not -- I have not reached that conclusion, and I would not reach that conclusion at this point. I think our commanders attempt to apply the rules of engagement and the authorities that are given to them in exactly the right way that they're intended.

But unfortunately, we get into situations like this that are confusing. There is a lot on the ground. It's a fast-moving situation. And we have young people -- young leaders out there that are trying to make the right decision in the heat of combat. And sometimes it comes up wrong.

But I don't, and I would not tolerate, frankly, our commanders trying to use go-arounds to apply fires in ways other than they're intended.

STAFF: Jennifer and then Tom.

Q: General Votel, I have two questions.

One, the MSF doctors say that they called to military headquarters to say that they were under attack within minutes of it starting, and that the attack continued for 60 to 90 minutes later. Can you explain how that happened? Was that a result of radio communications being down? Why did they not get that message in the air and stop?

And secondly, can I get your comments on Sergeant First Class Charles Martland being reinstated -- the Green Beret who struck the Taliban commander who had raped an Afghan boy? Can you assure us that his future promotions will not be affected by this incident?

GEN. VOTEL: I've not -- let me take the second part here first.

I'm not familiar with that, so I won't comment on that. And those would normally be a service responsibility and not a U.S. Central Command responsibility.

To your -- the first part of your question, what the investigation reveals is the strike -- the lethal effects lasted for 30 minutes. What the investigation established was that at about 10 minutes into it, the Doctors Without Borders contacted one of our command centers and passed that information to us.

That went through a series of layers to get to the people on the ground. Frankly, the ground force commander was not tracking a medical facility, so when that information first got to him, that didn't immediately register. So, it took a few moments -- a few minutes to figure that out, that they actually were firing at it.

But what I would add, as soon as they made that determination, they stopped firing.

(CROSSTALK)

STAFF: David, then -- (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

Q: That's different from the original investigation, which said that the attack was over -- completed by the time anybody in the airplane realized that -- what they were shooting at.

GEN. VOTEL: What the investigation characterizes is that when they were notified, they stopped -- they stopped firing.

Q: General, you've talked about a string of errors here -- technical, human errors. I just want you to walk us through, when you look at this report, you're a very experienced officer. Is there something in particular with the human error -- errors that jumps out at you? Is it the fact that these guys had a visual on a target that they thought looked like the intended target? Is it the doctors frantically trying to call U.S. military officials to get them to stop shooting, and it took, you know, 18 minutes?

When you read this report, with your experience, is there one thing that jumps out at you and you say to yourself, "how could this possibly have happened"?

GEN. VOTEL: Yes, I think the one thing that as I went through this that jumped out at me was the communication between the air and the ground. And it was -- it was relatively concise, brief communication back and forth. And in a -- I think in a very confusing situation like this, what I think it merited was more discussion between what was going on.

There was a -- there was not complete situational awareness on the ground with what the aircraft was seeing. There was not complete situational awareness from the aircraft with what was happening with the ground force.

And so to me, that is about communications. And I think in this -- again, I think these -- both of these elements were exactly trying to do the right thing. They were trying to get to the right answer here and do the exact right thing. And of course, with the authorities they had, you know, and unfortunately they came up short. And I think that communications contributed to that.

Q: (inaudible) -- they were shooting at this hospital for quite some time -- a half-hour. Were they using all the guns? Were they using the 105? Were they using everything?

GEN. VOTEL: To my knowledge, I think they used all the systems that were available on the aircraft.

Q: So the 105 howitzer?

GEN. VOTEL: I believe so.

Q: Clearly, when they're looking at this building, there's no indication of enemy fire. There's no indication of fighting around there. Are you concerned that they were hitting a target, but there's no indication of any hostile intent?

GEN. VOTEL: Well, this is an area that we did examine in some -- some great detail as we went through this. And frankly, as I mentioned earlier, it's not uncommon to not see fire coming from a building or from a location, from -- through a sensor system. And that is my own personal experience. I -- some -- (inaudible) -- trained analyst perhaps can, who has looked at a lot of this over a lot of time and focused on it, may be able to do that. But it's not uncommon to not be able to identify that.

So, you know, yes, I -- the other aspect that we looked at was what was the pattern of life around this particular facility. And I think one of the contributing factors here was that what was being described by the ground force commander happening at the intended target was very closely being replicated at the Doctors Without Borders.

So I think they found about the same number of people, about the same general locations outside of the building. And so, they --

Q: Was anybody shooting? Nobody was shooting at the hospital, correct?

GEN. VOTEL: Nobody from the Afghans.

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. VOTEL: Right. Right. Right. It was at a different location.

Q: But wouldn't that -- (inaudible) -- something wrong here, (inaudible)?

GEN. VOTEL: Well, again -- yeah, again, there is a mistaken identification of the target. So the aircraft is looking at one location. The ground force is thinking they're looking at another location. There's no way to visually confirm that back and forth between them. And their discussions, as you look at the transcripts, don't add clarity to that.

Q: Again, I don't want to belabor this, but looking at what they saw, there was no one shooting. There was no one running around with RPGs. There was no fire-fight on the ground. So why would they just keep hitting it?

GEN. VOTEL: Well, again, this is -- that is -- that, you know, again, in the experience of -- of these individuals right here, who have done these types of operations before -- what they were seeing was frankly in line with what was being described from the ground, and with their own experience.

I mean, the enemy does adapt to how we operate. So they don't operate in quite an open fashion where we can always see everything that we have. That is a known factor that is mixed into this with the crew.

STAFF: We've got time for two more. Thomas and then Tara.

Q: Hi, sir. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post.

I kind of want to walk through a couple of issues that I have, starting with the equipment failure -- the satellite radio. I understand that that was a video downlink that would have been -- would have gone to the JTAC, correct?

GEN. VOTEL: That's right.

Q: Second, moving on, the surface-to-air missile -- that's kind of a loose term. Am I to understand that was a MANPAD, some kind of heat-seeking -- (inaudible) -- counter-measure -- (inaudible)?

GEN. VOTEL: That's our assessment.

Q: Next, moving on to the hospital, what the AC-130 can see; what the ground forces can see. The JTAC that was talking to the aircraft -- did the JTAC have eyes on the NDS? I understand they were supporting a raid.

GEN. VOTEL: To my knowledge, he did not have eyes on either of the locations, the intended facility or the other one.

Q: Okay. Did any American have eyes on the intended target?

GEN. VOTEL: Well, they were all located where the JTAC was. So my understanding is no, they did not.

Q: Got it. And from what I understand, you know, you had Afghan forces forward. That's who we were supporting. This airstrike was authorized in self-defense of Americans. So if there were no Americans near the target location --

GEN. VOTEL: Again, as I mentioned, the ground force commander made the determination that the Afghan forces that he was partnered with were part of his force. And so he made the decision to apply self-defense in support of his force that included these Afghan partners.

Q: Okay. So, I understand that. The Afghan partners at the national directorate building were under heavy fire. Correct?

GEN. VOTEL: On their way to that facility, yes.

Q: On their way to that facility. So the facility was targeted by the AC-130 in extremis? And so, I mean, when there were no effects on target, why did the AC-130 -- what I don't understand is you're using the AC-130U with a full suite of guns. You know, you pick the guns for the situation.

So if they're not taking, you know --

GEN. VOTEL: Well, the report was that they were taking fire from the NDS building. And that's what prompted the call for self-defense fires.

Let me just clarify one thing on the JTAC actually seeing the building. As you are probably aware, we have a variety of techniques that allow us to call for fires properly, safely, whether we can see the intended location or whether we cannot.

So, in this case, they were using that -- those procedures.

Q: The talk on. They used the talk on procedure.

GEN. VOTEL: Right, right.

STAFF: Final question, here.

Q: Thanks, General. You know, the release of this report occurs at the same time that another Doctors Without Borders facility has been struck in Aleppo.

Can you affirmatively say that the U.S. air power had no role in the attacks on that facility?

GEN. VOTEL: I can affirmatively say U.S. air power had no role on the attack of that facility.

Q: Can I clear up one inconsistency to the general?

STAFF: Okay.

Q: When General Campbell briefed us in November, he said that the aircrew was notified that they were striking the wrong target at one -- at some point during the attack on the hospital. And that -- I think that the word that was used was that they remained fixated on the hospital because of the physical location -- I mean, I'm sorry, the physical description of the building.

But it sounds as if that fact is different than what you're saying here today, that they were not -- they were never notified during the actual bombing of the hospital. They were never notified that they were striking the wrong target?

GEN. VOTEL: That's my understanding. They had no idea that the facility that they were striking was a medical facility. And when -- that was determined by the ground force commander. He stopped their firing.

STAFF: Thanks, everybody. Thank you, General.

GEN. VOTEL: Thanks, everybody.