Saturday 1 October 2016

MSF accuses US of 'changing its story' as coalition chief blames Afghan forces for lethal air-strike on hospital

David Kearns

Published 05/10/2015 | 17:24

Fires burn in part of the MSF hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike Credit: MSF
Fires burn in part of the MSF hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike Credit: MSF
Afghan MSF medical personnel treat civilians injured following an offensive against Taliban militants by Afghan and coalition forces at the MSF hospital in Kunduz Credit: MSF

Afghan forces called in the air strike that hit a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic in Kunduz, resulted in the deaths of 22 civilians, a US general claims.

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US Army General John Campbell's comments fell short of squarely acknowledging his country’s responsibility for an air strike that hit an Afghan hospital run by aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Saturday.

"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," Gen. Campbell said in a briefing with reporters.

Read More: US and Afghanistan vow to investigate Kunduz hospital bombing which killed 22 people

"An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat, and several civilians were accidentally struck."

In this photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres shows fires burning in part of its hospital in Kunduz hit by an air strike Credit: MSF
In this photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres shows fires burning in part of its hospital in Kunduz hit by an air strike Credit: MSF

Gen. Campbell said US forces were not under direct fire in the incident and the air strike had not been called on their behalf, contrary to previous statements from the US military.

He criticised the Taliban for fighting from within urban areas and putting civilians at risk.

The US military has acknowledged it bombed the hospital run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres Credit: MSF
The US military has acknowledged it bombed the hospital run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres Credit: MSF

"If errors were committed, we'll acknowledge them," he added.

"We'll hold those responsible accountable, and we'll take steps to ensure mistakes are not repeated."

Read More: 'In the intensive care unit, six patients were burning in their beds'

Afghan MSF medical personnel treat a civilian injured following an offensive against Taliban militants by Afghan and coalition forces at the MSF hospital in Kunduz Credit: MSF
Afghan MSF medical personnel treat a civilian injured following an offensive against Taliban militants by Afghan and coalition forces at the MSF hospital in Kunduz Credit: MSF

Twelve staff members and ten patients, including three children, were killed, and 37 people were injured including 19 staff members, said MSF.

“This attack constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law.   All indications currently point to the bombing being carried out by international Coalition forces,” the group said in a statement released on Monday accusing the US government of lying about its role in the air-strike.

"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.

Read More: We have no faith in US probe on Kunduz 'war crime': MSF

“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. There can be no justification for this horrible attack.”

Christopher Stokes, MSF General Director, says his group is demanding a “full and transparent account” from the Coalition regarding its aerial bombing activities over Kunduz on Saturday morning.

“We demand total transparency from Coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as collateral damage,” he said.

MSF said it was disgusted by statements from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack “over claims that members of the Taliban were present”.

“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'.

Read More: Aid workers and patients among 19 dead as US bombs Afghan hospital

“There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds.”

US Army Brigadier General Richard Kim has been assigned as the senior investigator on the incident and is in Kunduz now.

Gen. Campbell said the US military will ensure transparency in investigating the incident, and that NATO and Afghan officials would conduct their own investigations as well.

“If there's other investigations out there that need to go on, we'll make sure to coordinate those as well," he said.

The general declined to comment on whether the United States had called a pause to air strikes, but said he had not suspended "train, advise, and assist" support from US forces to the Afghans

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