The top commander in Afghanistan said Monday that the deadly U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was called in by local Afghan government forces, not Americans.
Initial reports said the Saturday attack, which killed 22, was ordered by U.S. special operations forces.
But Army Gen. John Campbell said Afghan forces were taking fire from the Taliban and radioed for air support.
“The Afghan forces called in for fire to support them because they were under direct fire,” Gen. Campbell said at the Pentagon. “We have U.S. Special Forces that continue to train, advise and assist at the tactical level, but I think the impression that people got after the first couple days is they were firing directly on U.S. forces, and what I’m telling you today is as I’ve talked to the investigating officer, as we continue to get updated information, that that was not the case.”
Left unclear was whether the strike was called on the hospital or some target nearby or whether Taliban were firing from the medical center.
Brig. Gen. Richard Kim, who is now in Kunduz, is leading the investigation.
“If errors were committed, we’ll acknowledge them. We’ll hold those responsible accountable, and we will take steps to ensure mistakes are not repeated,” Gen. Campbell said.
The strike aircraft was an AC-130 gunship, which fires cannon and machine gun rounds.
Christopher Stokes, general director of Doctors Without Borders, issued a statement responding to Gen. Campbell’s version of events.
“Today the U.S. government has admitted that it was their airstrike that hit our hospital in Kunduz and killed 22 patients and 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 U.S. dropped those bombs. The U.S. hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and [Doctors Without Borders] staff. The U.S. 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 U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.”