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Afghan Forces Requested Air Strike That Hit Clinic In Kunduz

Afghan forces called in the air strike that hit a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic in Kunduz, killing 22 people, a US general says.

Gen John Campbell admitted that no US forces had been under fire at the time, reversing an earlier statement.

MSF says Afghan attempts to justify the strike amount to “an admission of a war crime”. Afghan forces backed by the US have retaken much of Kunduz, which was overrun by the Taliban last week.

Twelve MSF staff members and 10 patients were killed when the hospital was hit on Saturday by a US airstrike. MSF says it was a lifeline for thousands in the city and in northern Afghanistan. “We have now learned that on 3 October, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from US air forces,” said Gen Campbell, the top commander of the US-led Nato coalition in Afghanistan. “An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck.” He expressed his “deepest condolences” over the civilian deaths.

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Responding to Gen Campbell’s remarks, Christopher Stokes, the General Director of MSF, accused the US of “attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government”. “The reality is the US dropped those bombs,” Mr Stokes said. “The US hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The US 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 US and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.”

The Afghan defence ministry said on Saturday that “armed terrorists” were using the hospital “as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians”.

A day later, the Pentagon said a strike had been conducted against insurgents directly firing on US forces – a claim Gen Campbell has now rolled back on. MSF says none of its staff reported fighting inside the hospital compound prior to the strike, though one local, Mohammad Arif, told the BBC Taliban militants had entered the hospital building and there had been firing.

The Pentagon says a full, transparent investigation will be conducted into the incident. Gen Campbell said the strike was carried out from an AC-130 gunship but declined to give further details, including the rules of engagement under which US forces were operating. He said he expected to receive a preliminary report into the incident within a couple of days. Areas of Kunduz now controlled by government forces include the police chief’s office, the central square and the governor’s compound.

Residents ventured out of their homes and shops reopened on Monday. However, pockets of Taliban resistance were reported on the outskirts of Kunduz.