It WAS the United States that bombed Doctors Without Borders hospital: Innocent civilians were 'accidentally struck' after Afghan forces called for air support
- The air strike in Kunduz on Saturday killed 12 medical staff and 10 patients
- General John Campbell, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said initial reports indicate the strike was called to protect US forces
- He said civilians were hit in the airstrike called to 'eliminate Taliban threat'
- Doctors Without Borders called the bombing a war crime and demanded a full and transparent investigation
- The charity's general director Christopher Stokes said the account of what happened in the attack 'keeps changing'
A Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan was ‘accidentally struck’ by the US military after Afghan forces called for air support to eliminate a threat from the Taliban, a US commander said today.
The air strike in Kunduz on Saturday killed 12 medical staff and 10 patients, including three children.
Another 37 were injured, according to the charity, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which works to help victims and in war zones.
Speaking at the Pentagon today, General John Campbell, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, offered his ‘deepest condolences’ to the victims – who were all Afghan, according to CNN.
But Doctors Without Borders branded the bombing a war crime and demanded a full and transparent investigation.
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General John Campbell, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan was ‘accidentally struck’ by the US military
The air strike in Kunduz on Saturday killed 12 medical staff and 10 patients, including three children. Pictured: Doctors Without Borders staff after the explosion
He said initial reports indicate the strike was called to protect US forces.
‘We have now learned that on October 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from US forces,’ he said.
‘An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat, and several innocent civilians were accidentally struck.’
In a statement issued after Campbell spoke, Christopher Stokes, general director for the group, said: 'Today, the US government has admitted that it was their airstrike that hit our hospital in Kunduz and killed 22 patients and MSF staff.
'Their description of the attack keeps changing - from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government.
'The reality is the US dropped those bombs. The US hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The US military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition.'
It added: 'There can be no justification for this horrible attack. With such constant discrepancies in the US and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.'
Afghan surgeons work inside a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, on Saturday
The Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen in flames, after an explosion in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, on Saturday
In a statement released by the White House, President Barack Obama offered his ‘deepest condolences’ for the ‘tragic incident’ - and promised a full investigation will take place.
‘The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgement as to the circumstances of this tragedy,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s reticence since the strike shows his reliance on Washington after 14 years of war.
His close relationship with the US, which is a sharp contrast to the strained ties between the two countries under his predecessor Hamid Karzai, has fueled anger in Afganistan about his close relationship with Washington.
‘I would like President Ghani to stand up and defend Afghan civil rights from all irresponsible actions taken by our forces or coalition forces,’ said Shukria Barakzai, a parliamentarian from Kabul.
She added: ‘I am proud of our brave forces. But politically, the void left by the national leadership is wide and visible.’
But deputy presidential spokesman Sayed Zafar Hashemi said the US-Afghan relationship was ‘normal’.
Fires burn in part of the MSF hospital after it was hit by an airstrike, in a photo released by MSF. The charity previously said that it had treated 394 people in the city since Monday, adding that 105 patients and 80 staff were present at the time of the attack - including 59 children
He said: ‘We condemn any attack that causes harm to civilians. But, it's war and civilians were being used as shields inside the city.’
The air strike came five days after Taliban fighters captured Kunduz in a complex attack that exposed a worrying lack of coordination between the branches of Afghan security, who are being trained by NATO.
They regained control of much of the city after three days of fighting and with the help of US air power.
But the battle underlined how Afghan and American security interests remain intertwined nearly a year after NATO's combat mission in Afghanistan officially ended.
And even before the hospital was hit, Ghani had faced calls in parliament to step down over the failure of the army and police to hold Kunduz, the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since their ouster in 2001.
Local residents receive food distributed by police as Afghan security forces try to regain control of the city
Afghan security forces raise the national flag after removing the flags installed Taliban militants in Kunduz
An Afghan woman donates blood for those injured fighting in Kunduz. Residents, under siege for the past week, have begun emerging from their houses as the Afghan army continues to consolidate control of the city
There has been sporadic fighting between Afghan security forces and the Taliban. Pictured: Afghans donate blood for those injured in the battles
While lawmakers are unable to remove him easily, they have made life difficult by opposing cabinet nominees and leaving key ministries, including defence, rudderless for months as the Taliban insurgency gains in strength.
The incident has renewed concerns about the use of US air strikes in Afghanistan, a deeply contentious issue in the 14-year campaign against the Taliban.
If investigations which NATO said could be completed within days conclude that a US aircraft did fire on the MSF compound, pressure will grow on Ghani to hold the coalition to account.
UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called for a full and transparent probe, noting: 'an air strike on a hospital may amount to a war crime'.
'This event is utterly tragic, inexcusable and possibly even criminal,' he said.
MSF said some 105 patients and their caregivers, as well as more than 80 international and local MSF staff, were in the hospital, the only medical facility in the area that can deal with major injuries, at the time of the bombing.
The charity said Afghan and coalition forces were fully aware of the exact location of the hospital, having been given GPS co-ordinates of a facility it said had been providing care for four years.
At a makeshift camp in Kabul where some residents of Kunduz have fled, people vented their anger over what had happened this week in their hometown.
The Afghanistan insurgency has often been in southern provinces close to Kabul and the Pakistan border, though the Taliban's latest move occurred in the north
The air strike in Kunduz on Saturday killed 12 medical staff and 10 patients, including three children
Doctors Without Borders branded the bombing a war crime and demanded a full and transparent investigation
‘Ghani was installed by the Americans,’ said Mohammad Yasin. ‘How could he condemn the attack?’
The Afghan president’s response on Saturday avoided pointing the finger of blame and was neutral in tone.
He said General Campbell had spoken to him and ‘provided explanations about the incident’.
But his predecessor, Karzai, had steered Kabul away from Washington and was highly critical of the coalition when civilian lives were lost during military operations.
An Afghan official close to security agencies, said: ‘Karzai would call NATO or US ambassadors to the palace if foreign troops caused civilian casualties, but Ghani did not even dare to condemn the attack on MSF.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, he referred to Campbell as ‘more of a commander-in-chief’, echoing a view held by some in Afghanistan that the general has too much sway over military strategy.
Campbell’s public affairs officer Lieutenant Colonel Angela Funaro said he would ‘definitely reject’ such a characterisation.
‘He advises President Ghani and Chief Executive (Abdullah) Abdullah on military matters, but that's his role,’ she said.
But despite the pressure to review Afghan-US relations, senior government officials argue that, until local security forces can prove themselves in battle, there is no alternative to NATO.
The bulk of NATO troops withdrew as the combat mission in Afghanistan formally concluded at the end of last year.
Afghan women, who fled from neighboring Kunduz province, wait to receive free rations in Badakhshan
People who fled from the Kunduz province arrive in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, on Sunday
But a ‘Resolute Support’ mission of around 13,000 soldiers remains to train Afghan forces and offer battlefield support, including engaging the enemy if it comes under direct attack as happened in Kunduz last week.
‘It's pretty obvious that the enemy understood 2015 was a critical year to test the Afghan army and to test the (Afghan-coalition) partnership,’ said Omar Samad, a senior adviser to Abdullah.
‘We need to make sure this partnership is solid and that Afghan forces are moving toward self-reliance.’
In Washington, the air strike has raised fresh criticism from those who think the United States is leaving Afghanistan too quickly.
President Barack Obama has said that by the end of this year, the US military presence in Afghanistan would be roughly half the current total of 10,000.
It would also operate only from bases in Kabul and Bagram, a key airstrip near the capital.
The plan is to reduce the force to ‘normal embassy presence’ by the end of 2016, mainly protecting the embassy and other US interests.
On Sunday, Senator John McCain told CNN that the air strike could have been prevented if the United States had a greater military presence in Afghanistan, calling the strike part of the ‘fog of war’.