U.S. air strike on Afghan hospital

Aid group calls for independent probe

Internal military inquiry can't be relied on, says medical charity

WASHINGTON • Medical charity Doctors Without Borders has called for an international probe into Saturday's deadly bombing of its hospital in northern Afghanistan by a US warplane, a day after the US admitted it made a mistake.

Asserting that it did not trust the outcome of internal military inquiries by the US into the bombing that killed 22 people, Doctors Without Borders - also known by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) - has called for the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC), a body set up under the Geneva Convention in 1991 but never used, to conduct its own investigation into the incident.

"We cannot rely on internal military investigation by the US, Nato and Afghan forces," MSF chief Joanne Liu, who has described the bombing as a war crime, told reporters in Geneva, reported the BBC.

She said that the IHFFC was "the only permanent body set up specifically to investigate violations on an international humanitarian law".

"We ask signatory states to activate the commission to establish the truth and to reassert the protected status of hospitals in conflicts."

General John Campbell, who heads US forces in Afghanistan, said: "A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility." PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The MSF's call comes in the wake of shifting and at times ambiguous US statements about the air strike.

However, on Tuesday, the US commander in Afghanistan took responsibility for the sustained bombardment of the medical facility and said the strike was the result of "a US decision made within the US chain of command".

General John Campbell, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility." He offered few new details about the attack, which lasted more than a half-hour. He said the details of what took place would come out in an investigation now underway.

He said the military had received a request for air support from Afghan troops fighting to retake Kunduz from the Taleban. "Even though the Afghans request that support," he said, "it still has to go through a rigorous US procedure."

Three separate investigations are underway to determine what happened early on Saturday in Kunduz, but the Pentagon acknowledged that the attack was a tragic error.

"Doctors Without Borders does important work all around the world, and the Department of Defence deeply regrets the loss of innocent lives that resulted from this tragic event," Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said in a statement released while he visited Rome as part of a European trip.

"When we make mistakes, we own up to them," Mr Carter added. "That's exactly what we're doing right now."

Gen Campbell's testimony centred on plans to continue the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in the coming year. The Taleban's recent gains appear to have restarted a debate within the Obama administration about whether to move forward with plans to cut by about half the current US force of about 10,000 troops.

The Pentagon, along with some senior officials within the administration, is pushing to maintain a large force in Afghanistan for as long as possible, arguing that the Afghan army and police are still in need of US assistance. Gen Campbell said he believed the situation in Afghanistan necessitated a change in plans. "I do believe we have to provide our senior leadership with options different from the current plan," he said in response to a question about whether the drawdown should proceed as planned.

"As I take a look at conditions on the ground," he continued, "when the President made that decision, it did not take into account the changes over the past two years."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'Aid group calls for independent probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe