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MSF calls for independent commission on Kunduz hospital attack

Candles are pictured outside the Medecins Sans Frontieres headquarters in Geneva

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) called on Wednesday for an independent international fact-finding commission to be established to probe the deadly US bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
The medical charity said that the commission, which can be set up at the request of a single state under the Geneva Convention, would gather facts and evidence from the United States, NATO and Afghanistan. Only then would MSF decide whether to bring criminal charges for loss of life and damage, it said.
“If we let this go, we are basically giving a blank check to any countries at war,” MSF International President Joanne Liu told a news briefing in Geneva. “There is no commitment to an independent investigation yet.” On Tuesday, the US military took responsibility for the deadly air strike on the hospital, calling it a mistake and vowing to hold people accountable.
Saturday’s strike on the hospital run by MSF, killed 22 people and deeply angered the medical charity. Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the Pentagon “deeply regrets” the loss of life. “The US military takes the greatest care in our operations to prevent the loss of innocent life, and when we make mistakes, we own up to them. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now,” Carter, who was travelling in Europe, said in a statement.
“We will do everything we can to understand this tragic incident, learn from it, and hold people accountable as necessary,” he said.
Earlier in Washington, the American commander of international forces in Afghanistan, Army General John Campbell, called the strike a mistake made within the US chain of command.
The comments by Carter and Campbell were the most direct acknowledgement yet by the US government that the strike on the hospital was carried out by US forces. On Monday, Campbell said only that US forces had responded to a request for support from Afghan forces.
In testmimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Campbell also made clear he favoured a rethink of a plan to withdraw almost all US troops by the end of next year. He said rising threats in Afghanistan from the Islamic State and al Qaeda were among factors informing his recommendations to the White House on future troop levels.
Campbell said US forces had responded to a request from Afghan forces and provided close air support as they engaged in a fight with Taliban militants in Kunduz, a provincial capital that the Taliban captured late last month.
“To be clear, the decision to provide aerial fires was a US decision made within the US chain of command,” Campbell said. He added that US special forces nearby were communicating with the aircraft that delivered the strikes.
“A hospital was mistakenly struck,” Campbell said. “We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.”
President Barack Obama expected steps to be taken to prevent such an incident from recurring, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Tuesday.
The government of President Ashraf Ghani, heavily dependent on Washington for military support and far less critical of the United States than his predecessor Hamid Karzai, has held back from directly criticising the United States.

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