US probe must go past admitting mistakes: rights body

Washington, Oct 7 (IANS) The US military’s statement that US forces “mistakenly struck” a MSF (Doctors Without Borders) hospital in Afghanistan must be followed up by a credible, independent and transparent probe that provides genuine accountability, Human Rights Watch has said.

The US should establish an independent panel outside the military chain of command with the aim of establishing the facts and assessing possible culpability for the strike that killed at least 22 medical staff and patients and wounded dozens more in Kunduz.

“There’s no question deadly mistakes were made in the bombing of the MSF hospital,” said Human Rights Watch. “Now it’s the responsibility of the US government to take prompt and transparent action to fully compensate the victims of the attack, ensure full accountability for what occurred, and adopt measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

At a Senate hearing on October 6, Gen. John Campbell, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, testified that “the decision to carry out a deadly air strike that hit a hospital in the Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz was made within the US chain of command”.

He also stated that he “had confidence the three investigations into the incident – conducted by NATO, the Department of Defense, and Afghanistan’s government – would bring the facts to light”.

However, contradictory statements since the October 3 airstrike raise concerns about the credibility of these investigations, Human Rights Watch said.

The NATO-led coalition initially characterized the destruction to the hospital as “collateral damage” after a US airstrike was carried out “against insurgents who were directly firing upon US service members advising and assisting Afghan Security Forces” in the vicinity of the hospital.

On October 5, Campbell stated that “Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from US forces”, appearing to shift responsibility for the airstrike to the Afghan forces.

MSF officials have consistently maintained that there was no armed Taliban presence inside the hospital compound and that US and Afghan officials were informed of the hospital’s coordinates well in advance.

MSF has provided extensive witness accounts about the attack, which continued for at least 30 minutes after the organization had called both Afghan and US officials to try to get the attack stopped.

MSF has also stated that only its own staff and patients were inside the hospital at the time of the attack.

Many important facts about the airstrikes still have not come to light, Human Rights Watch said, including the nature of Taliban activity in the vicinity of the hospital at the time of the attack.

Also unclear is the method of attack used by US forces, the intended target, the number of strikes, and what precautions were taken to minimize civilian harm.

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