Doctors Without Borders demands international probe into US air strike on Kunduz hospital

A handout picture provided by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) shows fire in a hospital in Kunduz after it was bombed, in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on Oct 3, 2015.
A handout picture provided by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) shows fire in a hospital in Kunduz after it was bombed, in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on Oct 3, 2015. PHOTO: EPA/MSF

GENEVA (AFP) - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Wednesday (Oct 7) demanded that an international fact-finding investigation be opened into a deadly United States air strike on a hospital it was running in the Afghan city of Kunduz.

"We cannot rely on an internal military investigation," Doctors without Borders chief Joanne Liu told reporters, insisting that an "international humanitarian fact-finding commission" should probe the attack.

"This was not just an attack on our hospital, it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions," she said. "This cannot be tolerated."

Her comments came after US commanding general John Campbell on Tuesday acknowledged that Saturday's air strike in Kunduz, which killed 22 people, including 12 MSF staff, had been a tragic error.

Such a fact-finding commission called for by MSF is an independent mechanism created under international law, but which has never before been used, the charity said.

It would simply establish the facts and would not determine criminal accountability.

Gen Campbell believes American forces broke their rules of engagement in calling in an air strike that pummelled a Kunduz hospital, a report said.

US special forces on the ground in Kunduz were unable to verify whether the hospital was a legitimate target before the bombs were dropped, a New York Times report said on Tuesday, citing officials close to Gen Campbell.

"Obviously, the investigation is still underway, but Campbell's thinking now is that the Americans on the ground did not follow the rules of engagement fully," the report quoted one of those officials as saying.

But the official stressed that no final conclusions had been reached and a formal inquiry could yield a different conclusion.

Under the rules of engagement, airstrikes are called in to eliminate insurgents, protect American troops and assist Afghans who request air support.

But the US special forces most likely did not meet any of that criteria, Gen Campbell said in private discussions with his colleagues, according to the report.

Gen Campbell told the US Congress Tuesday that the "hospital was mistakenly struck" and he had ordered American forces in Afghanistan to undergo re-training on rules of engagement.

The general stressed that while it was the Afghans who called for the strike, ultimately the decision to launch rested with Americans.

He said US officials were communicating with the charity, also known by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), to get "all sides of the story".

MSF has branded the strikes a war crime, and has pulled out of Kunduz in the aftermath of the attack.

Three investigations have already been opened into the incident, one by the Americans, one by the Afghans and one by Nato.

His remarks came as Gen Campbell urged Washington to consider boosting its post-2016 military presence to repel a Taliban upsurge and stabilise a "tenuous security situation" in the war-ravaged nation.

The White House is reviewing whether to press ahead with plans for the final exit of US troops by late 2016, the end of Barack Obama's presidency, and leave an embassy-based force of about 1,000 in Afghanistan.