The United States military is promising to investigate whether it targeted a hospital in northern Afghanistan.
The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says at least 22 people died in airstrikes on the hospital. The group, also known as MSF, operates the medical center in the city of Kunduz.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has called the attack Saturday a tragic loss of life. He promised a full and open investigation of the incident.
Secretary Carter admitted that U.S. planes were supporting Afghan military operations near Kunduz when the hospital was hit. Mr. Carter said he would hold “anybody responsible for doing something they shouldn’t have done.” He said there are questions about what happened and that it might take some time to gather information about the attack. He has ordered U.S. forces to provide any medical aid needed in the area.
Some U.S. officials spoke on condition that they not be identified in news reports. They said that U.S. special operations troops were helping Afghan forces. Those forces reportedly had been attacked and asked for help from warplanes. Afghan officials say their forces came under attack from Taliban fighters operating in the hospital or on its grounds.
After the attack, Doctors Without Borders said it had withdrawn from Kunduz. It added that more than 180 medical workers and patients were in the hospital at the time of the airstrikes.
The group released a statement on Sunday. It called for an independent investigation of the attack. The group expressed disgust at statements from Afghan officials suggesting that Afghan and U.S. forces decided to destroy “a fully functioning hospital because they claim that members of the Taliban were present.”
Doctors Without Borders said the statements represent an admission of a war crime.
The group also said that none of its workers reported any fighting in or near the hospital before the suspected U.S. air strike. And it said, “in any case, bombing a fully functional hospital can never be justified.”
It said the hospital was repeatedly hit, but nearby buildings were not damaged. The group also said the airstrikes continued for 30 minutes after U.S. and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed of the raids.
Doctors Without Borders said it told the coalition, Afghan military and civilian officials about the hospital last week in an attempt to prevent it from being targeted.
The Taliban sent a statement to VOA denying that its fighters were in the hospital when the building was attacked.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called the airstrike “inexcusable.”
The rights chief said that, “international and Afghan military planners have an obligation to respect and protect civilians at all times, and medical facilities and personnel are the object(s) of a special protection. If established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime.”
Jonah Blank is a South Asia expert with the RAND Corporation research group. He praised the work of Doctors Without Borders. And he said we should wait for the results of the investigation.
Mr. Blank noted that now that the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan has ended, Afghan forces often ask for support from warplanes. And he said the presence of the U.S. special forces shows that Afghan forces are unable to force Taliban fighters from Kunduz by themselves.
About 9,800 American troops are now in Afghanistan. The U.S. military had planned to reduce that number to 1,000 by the end of 2016. But some reports say U.S. defense officials are worried about the security situation in Afghanistan and may want to keep a few thousand troops in the country after 2016.
I’m Mario Ritter.
VOANews.com reported on this story, with additional material from VOA’s Victor Beattie. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
disgust – n. a strong feeling or dislike for something
functioning – adj. operating; working
facilities – n. buildings or equipment made for a special purpose
personnel – n. workers; employees
deliberate – adj. done in a way that is planned
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