General Campbell Not a Fan of an Independent Investigation into MSF Strike [Updated]

General John Campbell, who is in charge of military operations in Afghanistan testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. There was a telling exchange between him and Jeanne Shaheen.

After talking about how much everyone regrets the accident of targeting Médecins Sans Frontières, Shaheen asked Campbell if he would support an independent inquiry into what happened (that MSF continues to demand). Here’s the exchange:

Shaheen: I appreciate your talking about the effort to conduct an investigation on our part but do you have any reason to object to having an independent investigation done by the UN or another independent body of what happened?

Campbell: Ma’am, I have trust and confidence in the folks that will do the investigation for NATO, the folks that’ll do the investigation for DOD and the Afghan partners, and so all the very very tough questions that we’re asking they will get after that. My investigating officer again is a Brigadier General, Rich Kim, I have all the trust and confidence that he will, he will get answers to all of those questions, and he’ll continue to work that very hard and will continue to be transparent and provide all of that to this committee and to the American people as we move forward.

Shaheen: But as I understand your answer, then, you would not object to and would cooperate with an independent body, other than NATO or our Department of Defense in doing that kind of an investigation.

Campbell: I would let my higher headquarters or senior personnel make that decision. We are reaching out, again, to Doctors without Borders and the personnel that were on site, making sure that we get all side of the story, I did talk again to the investigating officer this morning, he has done that, he has talked to a few, he’s continuing to try to get out to locations where he can talk to doctors, nurses, survivors of that to make sure he gets all of that.

All of which is a roundabout way to say he’s been sent out here to try to squelch calls for an investigation by anyone besides a Brigadier General. Later in the hearing, Campbell dodged a question from Mike Rounds about how long this might take, though did say he would probably have a preliminary investigation done in a month.

Someone must have been panicked by Shaheen’s question because Dan Sullivan, in using his term to clean up some issues, addressed Shaheen’s question and helped the General shoot down the possibility of an investigation.

Sullivan: Senator Shaheen had asked about a UN investigation, possibly, into the hospital accident. Does the UN usually investigate major deliberative — deliberate attacks on civilians in Afghanistan when they’re conducted by the Taliban?

Campbell: Sir, I haven’t seen it in the past. Quite frankly I don’t know —

Sullivan: I don’t think they do, typically. Do you think it would seem fair or balanced if the UN conducted an investigation which was clearly on something that was accidental? — the hospital bombing — when they don’t investigate deliberate Taliban killing of civilians. Do you think that would be viewed as fair or balanced or as something the Command needs or would welcome?

Campbell: Sir I can’t comment on how the UN would do that. What I can comment on as I said up front earlier is I have complete trust and confidence in the team that we have to be thorough, transparent. And if there were mistakes made, we’ll make sure that those come out, if there’s people we have to hold accountable, we’ll make sure we’ll do that. I have every trust and confidence in the US and the NATO investigation ongoing, uh, —

Sullivan: I think so do, most of us here do as well. Not, I don’t, I certainly don’t think an additional investigation by the UN would be warranted or be welcome by this committee.

In other words, people really don’t want an independent investigation of this.

Update: Sullivan is wrong about whether the UN investigates Taliban killing of civilians. While the UN hasn’t done a lot of recent human rights reporting — aside from a report on the status of women — when it did do reporting It includes the Taliban’s targeting of civilians in its findings, as in this 2008 report.

27. Over the past four months, the Taliban and other anti-government elements have killed approximately 300 civilians. Roughly three quarters of these civilians were killed in suicide attacks. While the majority of suicide attacks appear to target legitimate military objectives, many of these attacks are nonetheless unlawful because it should be obvious that they will result in far more civilian than military deaths.

28. Most of the other civilians killed by the Taliban die as a result of targeted assassinations. While these killings are fewer in number, they are significant in terms of intimidating and repressing the population. Often, killing one teacher will close an entire area’s schools, killing one proponent of the Government will intimidate many others, and killing one worker will end humanitarian access to a district. These assassinations are completely unlawful, and their consequences are dramatic. The Taliban have also engaged in a high level of unlawful killing of non-civilians.

There’s far more discussion of the Taliban’s war crimes, including discussions of specific incidents, in this 2009 report.

Update: I understated how much work the UN is doing on human rights violations in Afghanistan, as Sarah Knuckey lays out at Just Security.

The UN’s mid-year and annual reports on civilian casualties in Afghanistan typically detail anti-government attacks. The photo on the front cover of the most recent UN report on Afghanistan, for example, shows the horrific scene directly after an anti-government element attack in April 2015, in which 32 were killed and 126 injured. The report’s executive summary begins with the testimony of a schoolteacher who witnessed the attack and describes “the blood, the human limbs, the corpses, and the other wounded people all over the street.” Pages 41-77 of the report detail Taliban violence, describing suicide attacks, the use of improvised explosive devices, indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on civilians, and the war crime of murder. It includes a section specifically on suicide and complex attacks, in which 1,022 civilian casualties occurred in just the first six months of 2015.

Many other UN reports also detail the findings of its investigations into Taliban/anti-government element attacks: July 2014 (the cover shows a child injured by a Taliban attack on the Serena hotel), February 2014 (the cover shows a child injured in an IED attack), July 2013 (the cover shows children running from a Taliban attack), February 2013 (the executive summary begins with a gruesome witness account of an IED attack, obtained through UNAMA interviews) , February 2012 (cover shows the aftermath of a suicide attack), July 2012 (cover shows the consequences of an IED attack that killed 13 and injured 57), and so on. A great many UN press statements also regularly condemn Taliban violence.

There are also examples of other parts of the UN system reporting on Taliban attacks. In 2009, for example, a separate part of the UN – the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions – carried out investigations in Afghanistan, including into killings by the Taliban, and detailed reckless as well as deliberate Taliban attacks, including Taliban assassinations of civilians.

Update: This post has been significantly updated with the transcripts of the two exchanges and links to UN reporting on Taliban targeting of civilians.

24 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I’m reading that as: he knows what happened, he knows it’s a war crime, and he knows any halfway competent investigation will show that they knew what they were doing while they were doing it.

    Fuck Campbell and his chain of command – in both directions.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Campbell takes orders from Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, who while he apparently hasn’t commanded or ordered anything, has endorsed a DOD investigation, or inquiry. [inquire: To ask, especially politely or formally] –What does one expect from a community organizer anyhow?
    Obama, Oct 3
    “The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgment as to the circumstances of this tragedy. I have asked the Department of Defense to keep me apprised of the investigation and expect a full accounting of the facts and circumstances. ”
    SecDef Carter, Oct 3
    “A full investigation into the tragic incident is underway in coordination with the Afghan government.”
    Médecins Sans Frontières head says investigation by involved party would be ‘insufficient’–TheGuardian

  3. Don Bacon says:

    An independent investigation of army activities? Never happen, never be allowed. Even it were, Campbell is the grand potentate in Afghanistan, as previous army commanders have been, and he would control the investigation entirely including contacts etc.
    The senators today were treating Campbell as the grand poobah in Afghanistan, asking him about relations between Ghani and Abdullah for example, and civilian corruption including contracting and national police for another example, in complete disregard of the fact that army generals have no competence in civilian matters.
    It’s continuing Washington obeisance to flag officers in this ‘national security state’ and that includes the President who regularly refers to himself (erroneously) as the Commander-in-Chief. Actually too often he is the Listener-in-Chief as in this case.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Cue the reader with all the ha ha ha’s.
    “A hospital was mistakenly struck,” Campbell said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.”

  5. Don Bacon says:

    Meanwhile, a real world headline:
    Doctors Without Borders Enraged Over ‘Deliberate’ Kunduz Hospital Bombing
    “We are working on the presumption of a war crime.”

  6. Nat says:

    Was he asked at all about the frantic phone calls that MSF apparently made to the US during the attack, asking them to stop the bombing? To me that is the key question. Not only did they have the coordinates of the hospital before hand, they were contacted repeatedly in real time during the attack, and the bombing apparently continued for another hour. The general needs to go on record on whether this phone call was made and if it was, why on earth was the attack not halted immediately.

    Of course, this is why an independent investigation can’t be allowed — because real questions like this might be asked.

  7. P J Evans says:

    I’ve seen comments from people who think the hospital was a legitimate target because it treated people on the ‘wrong’ side. Problem is, that’s also covered by the Geneva conventions, and there are rules about how the protection is supposed to be removed, including prior notice so civilians can be moved to safety first.

  8. Ed Walker says:

    I’m just sure General Kim is the very model of a modern brigadier general. Now, a simple question: who does he work for?
    Of course this guy won’t investigate the question of exactly why the Air Force under his command and control bombed a site known to be occupied by MSF, just as Campbell refused to confront this question in his exchange with Senator Shaheen.

  9. phred says:

    So lets just say there is an independent investigation and the finding is that the hospital was targeted on purpose and therefore it was a war crime. Then what?
    What court has jurisdiction?
    Who gets prosecuted?
    And what slammer will they get thrown into?
    What I worry about is that even if MSF gets their independent investigation, that no one will go to jail, there will be no deterrent, and it’s open season on hospitals that have the audacity to care for anyone in need.

  10. Jim White says:

    I apologize for being MIA (still doing lots of empty nest home renovations) during a big story on my usual beat. I haven’t followed closely, but has anyone started asking questions yet about the presence of contractors among the US SOF group who are now said to have passed along the call from Afghan forces for the air strike? Keep in mind that with the much smaller US footprint, much of what is taking place on the US side is at the hands of the CIA-trained and -led death squads that now and then have a token SOF presence. These are the folks I would finger first for wanting to bomb a facility treating injured Taliban. They also are officially covert, so the self-investigation by the military will do everything it can to deny their presence and/or involvement.

    • Don Bacon says:

      **still doing lots of empty nest home renovations**
      Allow me to take a SWAG, Jim:
      You are converting one BR to a library, and another BR to a gymnasium, so that your kids can’t rebound & return.
      Am I warm?

      • Jim White says:

        Not too far off. But we already have a nice office, so one bedroom is converting to a guest room as the bed grew to a double instead of twin. I wanted to make the other bedroom the workout room as you guessed, but I’ve been vetoed since that daughter’s dorm is only a couple miles across town and my wife keeps going on about not destroying her room yet.
        I’m thinking about two years should do it. And that moves the current entertainment center into the workout room and I FINALLY get my really big screen in the family room…
        Meanwhile, wood flooring is replaced, carpet is replaced and back porch is tiled with new decking around the hot tub. The painter is about a third of the way through his thing and the new couches arrive tomorrow.
        Work on the barn begins later this week or next week.

        • Don Bacon says:

          Cheez, good for you. I can’t envision doing all that. I live in a trailer and don’t even have a small screen.
          Anyhow, I was close. Now: The barn is going to house the Petraeus monuments and memorabilia, right? –(Perhaps I should have quit when I was ahead.)

          • Jim White says:

            The barn area only temporarily houses Petraeus monuments and memorabilia. But I remove about a cartload of that manure from it on a daily basis.

            • Don Bacon says:

              Good response, as usual.
              Speaking of King David, his (and O’Hanlon’s) “no-fly zone” in Syria just took another hit with Russia launching cruise missiles from the Caspian across Iran and Iraq into Syria. The air controllers at al-Udeid AB in Qatar must have shit a brick (speaking of manure) when they saw 26 alien birds on their big screen (speaking of big screen).

  11. Ed Walker says:

    Marcy tweeted these hearings, and the amazing thing not covered here is the way the wingnuts twist themselves into weird knots. Here’s one tweet:

    Kelly Ayotte is making a pro-ISIS argument right here.

    If Iran fights ISIS, you see, we have to ally w/Taliban/AQ.

    Ayotte’s head then twisted 540 degrees and she vomited pea soup.

  12. Don Bacon says:

    General Campbell, in the Senate hearing and in the media, is being treated as if he is the determining factor in this matter but he isn’t as I discuss in #2 above.
    In fact Campbell is in a difficult position in this matter, presiding over a failing situation, the “loss of Afghanistan.” The current US effort in Afghanistan is limited to ten thousand troops, for a country the size of Texas and about the same population (30m). That limitation means that regular army units can’t be used, rather the mobile, secretive, ruthless Special Operations Command must provide the military force.
    It’s called special operations for a reason, they are special and don’t conform to regular military norms. With their sister agency CIA they often, shall we say, bend the rules and it’s all done in secret because they are special. Kidnapping, killing, assassination, torture… you know. Hospitals, sometimes. –See Jim White above, #11.
    Now it’s a stretch to expect Campbell to pounce on the special forces people which he depends on operating in Afghanistan for this event which involves killing civilians — duh, that’s nothing new — now called a “mistake,” previously an “accident.” Normally a mistake includes commitment of a fault by some party. They make hang it on some second looey, perhaps.
    Therefore the junior (promoted last year) brigadier Kim was appointed, an immigrant from Korea when he was young and a graduate of University of Hawaii. With all the West Point two- and three-stars that must be tripping around Kabul, Campbell appointed this green ROTC brigadier, the guy who normally would get the coffee for star-studded conferences.
    Regarding UN and ICC
    UN: The UN Human Rights Chief said it was essential to ensure any inquiry was independent, impartial, transparent and effective. “This deeply shocking event should be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated and the results should be made public,” he said here.
    ICC: The US is not a party of the Rome Statute and would never allow any citizen to be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The ICC is primarily for Africans, in practice.

    • emptywheel says:

      Not to mention that this all happened right when McCain was bringing Campbell back to start making the case for extended troop deployments. Ghani wants that, of course, otherwise he’ll be quickly retired as President. DOD wants to avoid yet another lost war (and probably wants to keep the presence for strategic reasons). So this hearing was supposed to be all about laying that case. If we find out our Afghan friends have caused us to commit a war crime, that case is going to be a lot harder to make. So …

      • Don Bacon says:

        The US plan was to reduce to 5,000 Dec 2015 and 0 Dec 2016. Last Spring Obama decided to retain 9,800 thru Dec 2015, and keep the 0 at Dec 2016. Now they will probably decide to keep 9,800 or so to Dec 2016 and retain some number after Dec 2016 (after the election).
        But it’s all nickles and dimes, 10,000 (or less) compared to the 100,000+ which couldn’t win, in a country of 30 million.
        The basic problem is the one General McChrystal assessed in Sep 2009, which is the fear that Pakistan has regarding India envelopment, via India’s US-promoted interest in Afghanistan. So Pakistan supports Taliban in its own security.
        Three months after McChrystal’s assessment, Obama announced at West Point that Pakistan is a US ally. Stupid! Send your kid to the other side of the earth to be offed by a US ally! Stupid.
        Whatever is decided will be totally political and will have no connection to reality, just as this Senate hearing has been unconnected to reality. It’s symbolic of McCain’s mental condition after his detention.
        …And Obama, nor one of his operatives, has EVER directly taken McCain on regarding his support for radicals and his nonsensical views. Isn’t that interesting. So McCain is sort of a shadow president. Now there’s a book!

  13. P J Evans says:

    Apparently NYT has a story with Yet Another Version from Campbell about what we’re supposed to believe happened. I’m not sure if it’s the fifth or sixth version of the story.
    But I still don’t think it’s truth.

  14. Jeff A. Taylor says:

    Folks are getting lost in the weeds. Or rather the wrong weeds.

    First big picture. US SF fire controllers do not hit targets by mistake, not for an hour, not while not under fire. These guys are experts, their lives depend on it. There was a target in that compound. Who was it? (And no, the Facebook complaining Afghan doc seems like a misdirect.)

    Now weeds. It is vitally important to ID which AC-130 was used and the munitions. It certainly SOUNDS like a Stinger II with standoff weapons (as opposed to more accurate 105mm auto-cannon) but we need that confirmed by someone on the beat. Snowden, for one, has already assumed “gunners” delivered the fire on target, but that may not have been the case.

    • Don Bacon says:

      You misunderstand. When people say it was a mistake to hit the hospital they don’t mean the hospital was hit rather than another intended target.
      And the question of whether the hospital was hit by missiles or shells isn’t really a key issue at this point. Okay, so people firing missiles aren’t “gunners” — big whoop.
      Just to complicate matters, MSF has claimed the hospital was hit by “a series of aerial bombing raids.” –The building was apparently totally destroyed.

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