U.S. Army General John Campbell told reporters at the Pentagon in Washington that he was correcting an earlier statement about the Saturday incident that the U.S. aerial bombardment was intended to defend American forces under fire.
The half-hour long bombing attacks hit a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders, an international charity that was treating people injured in the past few days as Afghan forces battled the Taliban for control of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Twelve hospital staff and 10 patients were killed, including three children.
After hearing Campbell’s statement, the medical group, known by its French acronym MSF, said, “The reality is the U.S. dropped those bombs. The U.S. hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. There can be no justification for this horrible attack.”
Afghan officials say 10 to 15 fighters were hiding in the hospital and on its grounds. But MSF said in an earlier statement that “not a single member of our staff” reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S.
Campbell said U.S. investigators have determined that “Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces.”
He said that “an airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck.”
Campbell declined to offer more details, saying the investigation into the incident is continuing.
He told VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb that he should have a preliminary report in the next couple of days.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has pledged a full and transparent probe.
The Kunduz bombing triggered a firestorm of criticism from aid groups.
MSF said Sunday it has removed its doctors and workers from the Kunduz facility.
Carter, speaking Sunday to reporters en route to Spain, cautioned the situation in Kunduz is “confused and complicated,” while vowing that “we will get the facts.” He also said he has ordered U.S. forces to provide any medical aid needed in the area.
Carter spoke as MSF demanded an independent international probe of the bombing.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, in a statement sent to VOA, denied the presence of its fighters in the hospital at the time of the airstrike.
Obama: ‘Deepest condolences’
U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday offered his “deepest condolences to the medical professionals and other civilians killed and injured in the tragic incident.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also expressed his “deep sorrow” over the killing and wounding of civilians, in a statement issued in Kabul.
The International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan strongly condemned the attack, saying that from its perspective “targeting of any medical facility or personnel working in health care is unacceptable regardless of the circumstances.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called the airstrike “inexcusable.”
Zeid said, “International and Afghan military planners have an obligation to respect and protect civilians at all times, and medical facilities and personnel are the object of a special protection.”
He said, “If established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime.”
Taliban forces overran Kunduz a week ago, with Afghan President Ghani announcing days later that government fighters, with the support of U.S. airstrikes, had retaken the city.
Late last week, authorities in Afghanistan said at least 60 people had been killed and 466 wounded in the battle between government troops and the Taliban for control of Kunduz.