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Doctors Without Borders

The US is struggling to explain how it bombed an MSF hospital and killed 22 people

Medecins Sans Frontieres are calling the attack a ‘war crime’.

Updated 3.15 pm

THE UNITED STATES has said that Afghan forces requested the US air strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan that killed 22 people.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiere (MSF) have shut their operations in the Afghan city of Kunduz and demanded a “full and transparent investigation” into what it labelled a ‘war crime’.

MSF said 22 people were killed, some of whom burned to death in their beds as the bombing raid continued for more than an hour early on Saturday, even after US and Afghan authorities were informed the hospital had been hit.

Speaking today following the outcry, the US commander in Afghanistan has said that the bombardment of the hospital was a mistaken.

“We have now learned that on 3 October, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from US air forces,” General John Campbell told reporters.

“An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck. This is different from the initial reports which indicated that US forces were threatened and that the air strike was called on their behalf.”

kunduz Fires burn in the MSF emergency trauma hospital.

The general’s comments don’t exactly match up to claims from Afghan officials who said that that insurgents were using the hospital building as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians.

MSF general director Christopher Stokes 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. 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.”

MSF has denied any combatants were present in the facility.

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

It added 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.

It is the only medical facility in the whole northeastern region of Afghanistan that can deal with major war injuries. Its closure, even temporarily, could have a devastating impact on local civilians.

“The MSF hospital is not functional anymore. All critical patients have been referred to other health facilities and no MSF staff are working in our hospital,” Kate Stegeman, a spokeswoman for the charity, told AFP.

Stegeman said she could not confirm whether the trauma centre will reopen.

MSF said some 105 patients and their caregivers, as well as more than 80 international and local MSF staff, were in the hospital at the time of the bombing.

‘Tragic incident’

US President Barack Obama offered his ”deepest condolences” for what he called a “tragic incident”.

“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,” Obama said.

But MSF’s stokes said: “Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.”

RT / YouTube

NATO earlier conceded US forces may have been behind the bombing, after they launched a strike which they said was intended to target militants.

The incident has renewed concerns about the use of US air strikes in Afghanistan, a deeply contentious issue in the 14-year campaign against Taliban insurgents.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein earlier also 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.

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.

Afghan forces, backed up by their NATO allies, claim to have wrestled back control of the city.

MSF’s withdrawal from Kunduz comes as the region grapples with a humanitarian crisis, with food and medicine shortages affecting thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and insurgents.

At least 60 people are known to have died and 400 to have been wounded in the past week’s fighting.

© – AFP 2015

-With reporting from Associated Press and Rónán Duffy

Read: Obama promises investigation into US hospital airstrike that saw “patients burn to death in their beds” >

Read: As many as 20 people killed in alleged US airstrike, including MSF workers >

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