WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) -- The Pentagon on Friday disciplined 16 service members for an airstrike that left 42 dead at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in October, but said that because the act was "unintentional," it was not a war crime.
During a press conference, Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel of Central Command announced the conclusion of a "painstaking" investigation, saying gunship crew members were unaware they were striking a protected hospital.
Not only human error was to blame, he said, but also "process and equipment failures." Thirty minutes into the airstrike, once personnel became aware they struck the wrong location, they immediately ceased fire, Votel added.
A six-month internal investigation of the devastating Oct. 3 incident led to the punishment of a two-star general, the crew of an Air Force AC-130 gunship and Army special forces members, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The penalties will remain non-judicial, so none of the 16 military members -- the names of whom are to remain anonymous -- will be court-martialed. No criminal charges have been filed.
Although Votel divulged that certain personnel "failed to comply" with the rules of engagement in-place, their actions did not constitute a war crime.
One officer involved was reportedly suspended from command and ordered to leave Afghanistan. Six were sent to counseling, two were ordered to return to training, and seven were issued letters of reprimand, which are essentially career-ending because they make it difficult to obtain a promotion.
In early October, a total of 42 doctors, patients and other Afghan citizens were killed as a result of a U.S.-led airstrike in the city of Kunduz, which struck a Doctors Without Borders medical facility. A U.S. spokesman for coalition troops in the country said at the time the strike "may have caused collateral damage to a nearby health facility."
Doctors Without Borders, known officially as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, responded saying, "we cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as 'collateral damage.'"
The organization has described the attack as a war crime.
"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," Army Gen. John Campbell said at a press conference in November.
The Pentagon's disciplinary actions are under scrutiny by various humanitarian organizations. Amnesty International, for example, released a statement Thursday calling for an independent investigation after criticizing the Department of Defense's "questionable track record of policing itself."
"The decision to prosecute members of the armed forces for criminal conduct should be made by an independent prosecutor to avoid the conflict of interest inherent in allowing commanders to make such decisions. Until there is meaningful and systemic reform, Afghan victims of violations by U.S. forces will be denied full justice," said Naureen Shah of the organization's U.S.-based Security with Human Rights program.
John Sifton of Humans Rights Watch told The New York Times described the decision not to press criminal charges as "inexplicable."
"General Joseph Votel's assertion that a war crime must be deliberate, or intentional, is flatly wrong," he said.
News of the Pentagon's disciplinary actions for the 16 service members comes just two days after another MSF hospital was bombed, this time in Aleppo, Syria. The attack left at least 27 dead Wednesday.
"We are outraged at the destruction of Al-Quds hospital in Aleppo, Syria," MSF said in a statement. "The destroyed MSF-supported hospital in Aleppo had an [emergency room], an [out-patient department], intensive care unit and an operating theater. All now destroyed."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned the attack, suggesting on Thursday Assad's forces may be to blame.