US President Barack Obama called the president of aid group Doctors Without Borders on Wednesday to apologize for a US airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan that killed more than 20 people.
Obama also told Joanne Liu that there would be a thorough, transparent investigation into the incident and called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to discuss the it, spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The White House said Obama “expressed regret over the tragic incident and offered his thoughts and prayers on behalf of the American people to the victims, their families, and loved ones.”
“When we make a mistake we own up to it,” Earnest said. “We apologize and we make changes to be sure it won’t occur again in the future.”
Liu said in a statement that Doctors Without Borders had “received” Obama’s apology, “However, we reiterate our [request] that the US government consent to an independent investigation led by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to establish what happened in Kunduz, how it happened, and why it happened.”
Obama also offered condolences to Ghani over the attack but vowed to continue to work closely with the Afghan security forces and government to provide security.
Doctors Without Borders, which goes by the acronym MSF for its name in French, Medecins Sans Frontieres, has said the attack, which killed 22 staff and patients, left all of MSF in shock.
“Nothing can excuse violence against patients, medical workers and health facilities,” Liu said in a statement issued Tuesday.
“Under International Humanitarian Law hospitals in conflict zones are protected spaces. Until proven otherwise, the events of last Saturday amount to an inexcusable violation of this law. We are working on the presumption of a war crime.”
MSF withdrew from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz the day after bombing raids destroyed its hospital. Of the 22 people killed, 12 were MSF staff members. The dead also included three children.
All humanitarian agencies have now left Kunduz, UN emergency relief spokesman Jens Laerke said.
US General John Campbell, the top US general in Afghanistan, told Congress Tuesday the hospital had been hit by mistake. He said the strike was conducted at the request of Afghanistan security forces, but the decision to provide air support was made by the US military. He stressed that US troops would never intentionally target a medical facility.
Three separate investigations are under way – by the US military, the Afghan government and the international coalition, but MSF is demanding “a transparent, independent investigation” into the attacks, which it claims were deliberately coordinated by coalition air forces and the Afghan military.
Taliban fighters were still carrying out sporadic hit-and-run attacks in the city Tuesday, several days after Afghanistan’s government announced the retaking of Kunduz by security forces.
The hospital had treated 400 patients in the week leading up to the strikes amid heavy fighting in the area.