War on Terrorism

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Campbell: Kunduz Hospital Attack ‘Tragic, Avoidable Accident’

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, November 25, 2015 — Human error, procedural missteps and technical failures contributed to the attack on a Doctors Without Borders trauma center in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on Oct. 3, Army Gen. John F. Campbell said in Kabul today.

Speaking via teleconference, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces - Afghanistan briefed the press on the results of the U.S. investigation into the incident that left 30 people dead and 37 wounded.

“This was a tragic, but avoidable accident caused primarily by human error,” the general said.

Campbell also put the incident into context, noting that Afghan troops in Kunduz -- supported by U.S. special operations forces --had been under heavy Taliban attack for five days and nights.

The independent report determined that the U.S. attack on the trauma center was the direct result of human error, compounded by systems and procedural failures. “The U.S. forces directly involved in this incident did not know the targeted compound was the [Doctors Without Borders] trauma center,” Campbell said. “The medical facility was misidentified as a target by U.S. personnel who believed they were striking a different building several hundred meters away where there were reports of combatants.”

The report also determined that the personnel who requested the strike and those who executed it from the air did not undertake the appropriate measures to verify that the facility was a legitimate military target, Campbell said.

Incident Timeline

On Oct. 2, Afghan special operations forces advised their U.S. support that they intended to conduct a clearing operation that night, the general said. One of the mission objectives was to clear the National Directorate of Security headquarters building they believed was occupied by insurgents. “The Afghans requested U.S. close-air support as they conducted their clearing operation,” he said.

The investigation found that multiple errors occurred from this point forward, ultimately resulting in the misidentification of the trauma center and the subsequent airstrike, the general said.

The AC-130 aircraft designated to provide close-air support launched 69 minutes early in response to a “troops-in contact situation” -- an emergency that requires an immediate response, Campbell said. This precluded the crew from receiving their normal mission brief or securing crucial mission-essential related materials, including the no-strike designations which would have identified the location of the trauma center, he said.

After takeoff, the crew was waved off the initial mission and diverted to provide close-air support in Kunduz. “During the flight, the electronic systems onboard the aircraft malfunctioned, preventing the operation of an essential command and control capability and eliminating the ability of aircraft to transmit video, send and receive e-mail or send and receive electronic messages,” Campbell said.

Degraded Sensors

As the aircraft arrived on station, the crew believed they were targeted by a missile, forcing the aircraft to move farther away. “This degraded the accuracy of certain targeting systems which later contributed to the misidentification of the [Doctors Without Borders] trauma center,” the general said.

The American special operations forces commander provided the aircraft with the correct coordinates to the NDS headquarters building -- the Afghans’ intended target, he said.

“But when the aircrew entered the coordinates into their fire control systems, the coordinates correlated to an open field over 300 meters from the NDS headquarters,” Campbell said. “This mistake happened because the aircraft was several miles beyond its normal orbit and its sensors were degraded at that distance. The investigating officer found that the aircrew visually located the closest, largest building near the open field, which we now know was the [Doctors Without Borders] trauma center.”

The physical description of the NDS headquarters building roughly matched the description of the trauma center as seen by the aircrew. “At night, the aircrew was unable to identify any signs of the hospital’s protected status,” the general said. “Tragically, this misidentification continued throughout the remainder of the operation.”

Missed Opportunities

There were chances to catch the mistake, he said. Once the aircraft returned to its original orbit, the aircraft’s grid location system correctly aligned with the NDS facility instead of the open field. Also, investigators found that the aircrew did not observe hostile activity at the trauma center, Campbell said.

As the Afghan operation proceeded, he said, the U.S. commander requested the aircraft to engage a building that the aircrew mistakenly believed was the NDS headquarters.

“The report found that, under the circumstances, the U.S. SOF commander lacked the authority to direct the aircrew to engage the facility,” the general said. “The investigation also found that the U.S. SOF commander relied primarily upon information provided by Afghan partners and was unable to adequately distinguish between the NDS headquarters building and the ... trauma center.”

Another chance to catch the mistake was missed when the aircrew transmitted to their operational headquarters at Bagram Airfield that they were about to engage the building. “They provided the coordinates for the [Doctors Without Borders] trauma center as their target,” the general said. “The headquarters was aware of the coordinates for the ... trauma center and had access to the no-strike list, but did not realize that the grid coordinates for the target matched a location on the no-strike list or that the aircrew was preparing to fire on the hospital.”

The strike began at 2:08 a.m., according to the report. At 2:20 a.m., a special operations forces officer at Bagram received a call from Doctors Without Borders saying their facility in Kunduz was under attack. “It took the headquarters and the U.S. special operations commander until 2:37 a.m. to realize the fatal mistake,” Campbell said. “At that time, the AC-130 had already ceased firing. The strike lasted for approximately 29 minutes.”

The report determined that the approximate cause of this tragedy was a direct result of avoidable human error compounded by process and equipment failures. “In addition, the report found that fatigue and high operation tempo contributed to this tragedy,” the general said.

The command has taken the lessons of this tragic incident to heart and put in place corrective measures, Campbell said.

The command will “also take appropriate administrative and disciplinary action through a process that is fair and thoroughly considers the available evidence,” the general said.

This is just the first report of the incident. A NATO and Afghan partner combined civilian casualty assessment team also conducted an investigation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Anti-ISIL Forces Make Gains in Iraq, Syria

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, November 24, 2015 — Forces fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continue to make progress in Iraq and Syria, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said today.

"We're starting to see changes in the way ISIL operates every day on the ground here. That doesn’t mean this is over. We're a long way from over," Army Col. Steve Warren said.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad, Warren said indigenous ground forces continue to consolidate gains across the battlefield.

"We're seeing the impacts of our operations to defeat ISIL," he said.

Vetted Syrian opposition forces and New Syrian Forces successfully seized the towns of Harjala and Dalha after a tough fight last week, he said.

"This is important because it’s the first successful offensive operation since June along the Mar'a line," he noted.

Weakening Vehicle Bomb Effectiveness

Warren said the effectiveness of vehicle bombs used by ISIL is at five percent.

He said Iraqi forces have improved their ability in identifying and destroying such bombs, and targeted strikes by coalition and Iraqi aircraft have destroyed vehicle bomb factories.

"Taking out their oil today won't necessarily make something change tomorrow, but it will make something change downstream," he said. "But hitting these ... factories, we are seeing an impact."

There are fewer vehicle bombs on the battlefield, Warren said. The ones that remain are not well-made and will often self-detonate before they reach their target, he said.

"They're softer for us, so they're easier for us to kill, or for the [Iraqi security forces] to kill," the colonel said.

U.S. Takes Out Bridge, Oil Tankers

On Nov.18 in Ramadi, U.S. forces struck a bridge that was the primary route used by ISIL to send vehicle bombs to attack Iraqi forces south of the city, he said.

"As you'll see here in a moment, ISIL can no longer use this road to attack the [Iraqi forces]," he said, before showing a video of an American airstrike taking out the bridge.

In Syria, on Nov. 22, U.S. airstrikes destroyed 283 oil tanker trucks, he said. That mission was part of Operation Tidal Wave, which is targeting ISIL's illicit oil activity. “These trucks are an integral link in the revenue stream that is providing revenue ... to ... ISIL,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said yesterday.

Ruthless Enemy, Changes in Battlefield

The changes in the battlefield, Warren said, include a reduction of personnel at ISIL checkpoints. That is an indication, he said, that perhaps ISIL can't get as many people out to the posts and "maybe things aren't as good as they could be in ISIL-land."

Other changes, he said, include ISIL sending out civilians as bait to get Iraqi Security Forces to respond.

Warren said Iraqi forces in Ramadi observed 22 civilians trying to get away from the fighting on Nov. 18.

"As the civilians neared the [Iraqi forces], ISIL opened fire at the crowd. In the process, they shot and wounded a nine-year-old, little boy," he said, adding Iraqi forces safely evacuated the civilians. The boy was stabilized and taken to a hospital.

It appeared, Warren said, that ISIL was using the civilians as bait to get the Iraqi forces to come out so they could fire on them.

"This enemy has no regard for human decency, even for the people they claim to be protecting under their so-called caliphate," he said.

Russia Plane Downed

Warren said the Turkish government announced that two of its F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets on border patrol engaged two Russian Su-24s, and one Russian aircraft was shot down.

No American personnel or planes were in the area, he said.

"This was purely an action that took place between the Russians and the Turks," Warren said.

It is not an issue that involves the Combined Joint Task Force or Operation Inherent Resolve, he added.

Russia Involvement

Warren dismissed Russia's recent claim that it destroyed 500 fuel tankers used to transport ISIL's illicit oil.

"We took a look at the reports. We saw the video they released," he said. "From what we saw, the battle damage assessment they issued seems to us to be exaggerated."

Russian actions, Warren said, are at odds with what Russian officials said they wanted to accomplish in Syria.

"It flies directly in the face of what they said they would do. They have said that they are here to help fight ISIL. In fact, they're here striking moderate Syrian opposition groups," he said.

Only a fraction of Russian attacks targeted ISIL, he said.

"The Russians have said that they're here to fight terrorism, but the Russians have routinely now demonstrated that their goal is to prop up and prolong the Assad regime," he said.

A majority of Russian strikes, he said, have had a direct benefit to the Assad regime.

"It's the Assad regime, in our view, that's the problem here," Warren said. "It's the Assad regime that has brought suffering and misery to the Syrian people, which in turn has led to the growth of ISIL itself. It's the whole reason we're here."

Carter, French Counterpart Discuss Countering ISIL

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, November 24, 2015 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter began his meeting at the Pentagon today with the French defense minister by expressing his condolences over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s “horrific” Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, and he reiterated the U.S. commitment to strengthen shared efforts against the terrorists, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters.

Cook said Carter and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke within hours of the attacks and have been in frequent contact ever since ISIL’s attacks in Paris killed 130 people from 20 nations and wounded more than 350 others.

While the two defense leaders primarily focused their Pentagon meeting on counter-ISIL efforts today, Cook said, their conversations since the attacks already have resulted in several concrete steps.

Nations Share ISIL Information

“France and the United States are now sharing information and details about operational planning against ISIL to the fullest extent allowed by law,” the press secretary said. “Our nations are also contributing to a thickening of the coalition air campaign with sorties now originating from the French carrier the Charles de Gaulle.”

And France was the first to join the United States in strikes against ISIL in Iraq, Cook said.

Expanding U.S., French Cooperation

The two countries now are looking at ways to further expand their cooperation, he said, adding that “France sand the United States share security in other parts of the world.”

“They have shown strong commitment to each facet of the campaign ever since,” Cook said of the French military. “The French are helping to build the capacity of local fighters, training Iraqi peshmerga forces, and have been at the forefront of efforts to stem the flow of financial support and foreign fighters to ISIL,” he said.

In Africa, the United States has supported the French mission to prevent the spillover effects of terrorism and extremism through a “unique lift in aerial refueling capability,” Cook noted.

“In Europe, France has joined the United States by providing our partners reassurance response to Russian aggression,” he said. The French also have volunteered to lead NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force at a future date, he added.

The defense leaders earlier today met at the White House with President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande, who also discussed countering ISIL efforts between the two nations.

“Echoing the president's words today,” Cook said, “Secretary Carter thanked France for serving as an anchor for security on several continents and for standing as a steadfast ally.”