KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan apologized on Tuesday for the American bombing of a hospital last year that killed 42 people and wounded 37 more.
General John W. Nicholson met family members of victims and the staff of the now-closed Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, which was captured by Taliban insurgents for several days last year, to express his condolences.
“As commander, I wanted to come to Kunduz personally and stand before the families, and people of Kunduz, to deeply apologize for the events” that led to the bombing, Nicholson said.
“I grieve with you for your loss and suffering; and humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness,” added Nicholson.
A U.S. investigation found that the Oct. 3 air strike was a “tragic and avoidable” incident, primarily caused by human error. The U.S. military has disciplined more than a dozen personnel, including officers following the strike.
MSF, known as Doctors Without Borders in English, has in the past publicly cast doubt on the idea that the strike could have been a mistake.
The brief capture of the Kunduz provincial capital was arguably the biggest victory for the Taliban militants in the 15-year war since they were toppled by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
Afghan security forces, who suffered a record number of losses last year, have been struggling to contain Taliban militants who are fighting to topple the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
Violence is at its worst since the departure of most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014 as the country is bracing for the start of the spring fighting season.
Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Alison Williams