This story was originally published on April 29, 2016.
The conversation aboard the aircraft shows they continued to have difficulty locating the target.
The sensor operator, also known as "TV," pointed out one possibility.
"Well, unless the grids are off, this is the only large complex in the area; they have busses [sic] on the west side," he said.
Sensor operation: Well, unless the grids are off, this is the only large complex in the area; they have busses [sic] on the west side.
Fire control officer: I've got [redacted].
Sensor operator: That's what I copied too, but it just [redacted] you into the middle of this field with a bunch of small buildings.
Navigator: How far off is that larger complex from the grids?
Sensor operator: About 300 meters.
Navigator: 300 meters southwest?
Sensor operator: Affirm.
Fire control officer: TV, I'm just going to update that off of you, since that's most likely what it is, so if you can just track there.
The compound they had identified was actually the Doctors Without Borders Trauma Center.
The crew was then advised the compound they should pursue was under Taliban control, and that "nine personnel were observed as hostile." They learned the objective was to clear the National Directorate of Security headquarters building believed to be occupied by insurgents.
The photo within the CENTCOM report shows the proximity of the first acquired location, the open field, to the Doctor's Without Border's trauma center, to the NDS facility.
Photo Credit: CENTCOM
"GFC [ground forces command] says there is an outer perimeter wall, with multiple buildings inside of it. [break]. Also, on the main gate, I don't know if you're going to be able to pick this up, but it's also an arch-shaped gate. How copy?"
Over twenty-minutes later, an authority, unidentified, told the crew after the hostile facility was cleared, they were to clear a "second compound," not described in detail. "We will also be doing the same thing of softening the target for partner forces."
The conversation continued:
FCO: So he wants us to shoot?
Navigator: Yeah, I'm not positive what softening means?
Pilot: Ask him.
The crew looked for clarification. An answer came over. "GFC's [Ground Forces Command] intent is to destroy targets of all opportunity that may impede partner forces' success. How copy?"
The crew requested another clarification, and "observed that no personnel at the observed facility (MSF Trauma Center) appeared to be REDACTED which was never passed to the GFC."
The navigator and FCO eventually had this exchange about the operation as a whole, not just the intended location:
Navigator: I feel like — let's get on the same page for what target of opportunity means to you, and what target of opportunity means to me.
FCO: I mean when I'm hearing target of opportunity like that, I'm thinking REDACTED — you're going out, you find bad things and you shoot them
Navigator: Go for REDACTED
REDACTED person: Roger, be advised to do a PAX cocktail. (non standard terminology)
Navigator: What did he just say?
UNKNOWN: Something about confirming a PAX cocktail.
Navigator: PAX cocktail?
Unknown: I assume he's referring to MAMs; get confirmation and as well, while you're at it, get a building that he actually wants to strike, confirm that it's a T-shaped building in the center of the compound.
Still, within two minutes of engaging the target, the pilot once again asked for confirmation:
Pilot: Hey confirm that we are cleared on people in this compound and not just [redacted] this building.
It was confirmed.
The attack did not end until about 2:37 a.m., after several frantic calls from doctors at the hospital.
Votel did not discuss Air Force operational procedures in regards to the attack. He said the crew's names would not be publicly identified.
About 16 U.S. military personnel, including a two-star general, have been disciplined for mistakes that led to the bombing, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.