Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said today that Afghan forces who were under attack by the Taliban requested the U.S. airstrikes that resulted in 22 deaths at a hospital in Kunduz run by Doctors Without Borders.
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"We have now learned that on October, 3rd, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. Forces," Campbell told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. "An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck."
Campbell said that information was different from initial reports that "indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the air strike was called on their behalf."
He said three investigations are underway and "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."
In addition to the U.S. military's internal investigation, joint investigations are also being conducted with the Afghan government and NATO.
Campbell declined to address the rules of engagement for the U.S. military troops in Kunduz and who specifically had ordered the airstrike, citing the ongoing investigation. But he acknowledged that "the Afghans asked for air support from a special forces team that we have on the ground providing train advise and assist in Kunduz."
"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 in this place," Campbell said.
He restated that the 9,800 U.S. troops serving as trainers Afghanistan are not directly fighting the Taliban. "Afghanistan remains an area of active hostilities and our personnel continue to operate in harms way," he said. "Therefore, they retain the inherent right of self-defense."
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today in a statement, "The U.S. 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 U.S. dropped those bombs. The U.S. hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff."
The organization this weekend had demanded an independent investigation into the deadly airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that struck an MSF-run hospital, "under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed," calling the U.S. military's announcement that it would formally investigate "wholly insufficient."
"Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient," a weekend statement from MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said.
Gen. Campbell responded today when asked about the request for the organization's independent investigation, "If there's other investigations out there that need to go on I'll make sure that we coordinate those as well but I won't go into those details here. We're going to do everything we can in this case to be open and transparent.
Brigadier Gen. Richard Kim is conducting the initial military investigation and Campbell said he should have a preliminary report "in the next couple of days."
Campbell confirmed that an AC-130 gunship had been called into strike at Taliban fighters.
Doctors Without Borders has asserted they provided the coalition the GPS coordinates for their hospital earlier in the week and that they contacted the coalition during the airstrikes to cease the attacks. Campbell said those were questions that Kim would be investigating.