Afghan president appoints investigators for Kunduz airstrike
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani has appointed a commission to investigate a U.S. airstrike in northern Kunduz city that destroyed a hospital and killed at least 22 people, his spokesman said on Saturday.
The five-man team would leave soon for Kunduz to look into the cause of the Oct. 3 airstrike on a trauma center run by the international charity Doctors Without Borders, Ghani's deputy spokesman Zafar Hashemi said.
The team would be led by the former head of the national intelligence agency Amrullah Saleh, he said, and would report to the president.
The airstrike was requested by Afghan ground forces, according to the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, but mistakenly hit the hospital.
The bombing continued for about an hour and destroyed the hospital's main building. President Barack Obama apologized and the U.S. military is investigating. The hospital has been abandoned.
Doctors Without Borders said that 12 staff members and 10 patients, all of them Afghans, were killed. Many more are still missing though all internationals have been accounted for.
Ghani met with representatives of Doctors Without Borders on Friday, his office said.
He told the group's general director Christopher Stokes and Afghanistan representative Guilhem Molinie that he had ordered Afghan security forces to ensure the protection of humanitarian organizations, a statement said.
It made no mention of a call by Doctors Without Borders for an independent probe of the incident, specifically by the Swiss-based International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission - which is made up of diplomats, legal experts, doctors and some former military officials from nine European countries, including Britain and Russia. It was created after the Gulf War in 1991, and has never deployed a fact-finding mission.
Stokes said earlier that Doctors Without Borders - a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization that provides medical aid in conflict zones - is awaiting responses to letters sent Tuesday to 76 countries that signed the additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, asking to mobilize the 15-member commission.
For the IHFFC to be mobilized, a single country would have to call for the fact-finding mission, and the U.S. and Afghanistan - which are not signatories - must also give their consent.
Meanwhile, the situation in Kunduz remains tenuous, as government troops continue to battle to clear remnants of the Taliban from pockets within the city and its outskirts.
Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the provincial police chief, said three areas of the city had been retaken overnight, though a gas station in Seh Darak had been hit by a rocket and destroyed. Hussaini said he did not know which side was responsible.
Kunduz resident Abdullah, who gave only one name, said that people were still leaving the city for safety. He said he had seen grocers emptying their shops of food to take home, fearing ongoing scarcities.
The World Food Program said it was feeding thousands of people in camps in other cities in the north, and that "additional wheat is being milled in anticipation of increased needs in the coming days."
Food and water are still not getting through in adequate quantities, and the city remained without electricity, residents said.
"The whole city is empty of people," Abdullah said. "Residents are still not feeling safe."