US says Afghans asked for Kunduz strike

2015-10-05 18:20
General John Campbell (File AP)

General John Campbell (File AP)

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Washington - Afghan forces who said they were under Taliban fire asked for the US air strike that killed 22 people at a hospital in Kunduz, the US commander in Afghanistan has said.

"An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck," General John Campbell said on Monday at a press conference at the Pentagon.

The general declined to comment on the rules under which the US forces were operating, but he promised a thorough and transparent investigation and pledged "we'll hold those responsible accountable and take steps to ensure mistakes are not repeated".

The US military had previously reported that its own troops were under fire and had called in the strike, which was carried out by an AC-130 gunship.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has since closed a trauma centre it was operating at the hospital, has called for an independent investigation "under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed".

The medical charity said that despite frantic calls to military officials in Kabul and Washington, the main building housing the intensive care unit and emergency rooms was "repeatedly, very precisely" hit almost every 15 minutes for more than an hour.

The US has been under intense international pressure after global outrage in the wake of the deadly incident that was dubbed possible war crime by the UN human rights body.

'War crime'

MSF said on Sunday that it had closed the hospital in Kunduz, seen as a lifeline in a war-battered region with scant medical care.

MSF general director Christopher Stokes also hit out at claims by Afghan officials that insurgents were using the hospital as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians.

"These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present," he said.

"This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the US government to minimise the attack as 'collateral damage'."

The group said Afghan and coalition troops were fully aware of the exact location of the hospital, having been given GPS coordinates of the facility which had been providing care for four years.

President Barack Obama promised a full investigation while US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who expressed sadness over the "tragic loss of life", warned that the investigation will not be swift.

"The situation there is confused and complicated so it may take some time to get the facts, but we will get the facts, but we will be full and transparent about sharing them," he told reporters on a flight to Madrid at the start of a European tour.

Dead bodies in the streets

The air raid came five days after Taliban fighters seized control of the strategic northern city of Kunduz, in their most spectacular victory since being toppled from power by a US-led coalition in 2001.

On Monday, Afghan forces, backed up by their Nato allies, claim to have wrestled back control of the city, where decomposing bodies still littered the streets.

"There are many dead bodies in the streets. Local residents are busy burying the bodies," Al Jazeera's Qais Azimy, reporting from Puli Khumri in neighbouring Baghlan province, said.

He said that some shops in the centre of Kunduz city opened on Monday for the first time since it fell to Taliban fighters a week ago.

Residents said it was the first time in eight days that they had not heard gun battles and were able to leave their homes to buy food and take stock of the damage done.

Although government forces control most of the city, Taliban fighters "are still hiding in residential areas on the outskirts of the city" and in the city "in some houses", the Al Jazeera correspondent said.

In addition to conducting house-to-house searches in the city, government forces have surrounded the outskirts of the city, where they will engage Taliban fighters in order to "avoid civilian casualties" in residential areas, he said.

Read more on:    msf  |  nato  |  us  |  afghanistan

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