US and Afghanistan vow to investigate Kunduz hospital bombing which killed 22 people
Published 05/10/2015 | 06:37
The US and Afghanistan vowed jointly to investigate the attack on a hospital in Kunduz that killed 22 people, as street-by street battles continued between government forces and Taliban fighters.
Officials warned of a looming humanitarian crisis for civilians trapped in the city.
Amid accusations that US jet fighters were responsible for what Doctors Without Borders said was a "sustained bombing" of their trauma centre in Kunduz, president Barack Obama and Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani promised investigations.
Mr Obama said he expected a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the bombing, and that he would wait for those results before making a judgment.
He said the US would continue working with Afghanistan's government and its overseas partners to promote security in Afghanistan.
Some senior US officials said the circumstances surrounding the incident remain murky, but others indicated the US may have been responsible.
Army Colonel Brian Tribus, a spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan, said on Saturday that a US airstrike "in the Kunduz vicinity ... may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility".
US officials said American special operations forces advising Afghan commandos in the vicinity of the hospital requested the air support when they came under fire in Kunduz.
The officials said an AC-130 gunship responded and fired on the area, and that the senior US military investigator is in Kunduz but has not been able to get to the site as it continues to be a contested area between the Afghans and the Taliban militants.
Defence secretary Ash Carter said: "The situation there is confused and complicated, so it may take some time to get the facts, but we will get the facts."
Doctors Without Borders issued a statement expressing its "clear assumption that a war crime has been committed," after earlier saying that "all indications" were that the international coalition was responsible for the bombing.
Christopher Stokes, the charity's general director, is demanding an independent investigation and may not be satisfied with an inquiry conducted by the US and Afghan governments.
Using the organisation's French acronym, he Stokes said: "MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body. Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient."
The charity said the main hospital building in the sprawling compound "where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched".
It earlier said that bombing had lasted an hour, and repeated calls to Nato and the US military to call off the strikes had failed.
On Sunday, the organisation announced that three injured hospital patients had died, bringing the total death toll to 22, including 12 hospital staffers. It earlier said that three of the dead were children in the intensive care unit. The charity also announced it was withdrawing from Kunduz.
Afghan officials said earlier that helicopter gunships had returned fire from Taliban fighters who were hiding in the hospital.
But Kate Stegeman, the charity's communications manager, said there were no insurgents in the facility at the time of the bombing.
Meanwhile the humanitarian crisis in the city, which briefly fell to the Taliban last week before the government launched a counter-offensive, has been growing increasingly dire.
Shops are shuttered because of the fighting and roads made impassable by mines planted by insurgents.
The Taliban seized Kunduz last Monday but have since withdrawn from much of the city after a government counter-attack.
Sporadic battles continue as troops attempt to clear remaining pockets of militants.
The Taliban's brief seizure of Kunduz marked the insurgent group's biggest foray into a major urban area since the 2001 US-led invasion ended their rule.