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Aid group seeks probe over hospital airstrike

Jamey Keaten
Associated Press

Geneva – — Doctors Without Borders called Wednesday for an independent fact-finding mission to investigate a U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Afghanistan that killed at least 22 people.

The group, which believes Saturday’s airstrike in Kunduz may have been a war crime, appealed to the U.S., Afghanistan and other countries to mobilize a little-known commission to look into the tragedy.

The aid group, known by its French language acronym MSF, says it above all wants to ensure respect for international humanitarian law after the most deadly airstrike in its history. A dozen MSF staffers and 10 patients were killed in the hospital airstrike amid fighting between Afghan government forces and Taliban rebels in the northeastern city.

The U.S. military has already vowed to conduct an investigation and says the airstrike was a mistake.

MSF International President Joanne Liu called for an impartial and independent probe into the attack, “particularly given the inconsistencies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened over recent days.

“We cannot rely on only internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces,” she said.

U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Liu Wednesday and apologized for the attack.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama offered condolences to the group’s staff and pledged a “transparent, thorough and objective accounting of the facts.”

“When the United States makes a mistake, we own up to it, we apologize where appropriate, and we are honest about what transpired,” Earnest said. He described the call as a “heartfelt apology.”

MSF wants to mobilize the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, based in the Swiss capital, Bern. It is made up of diplomats, legal experts, doctors and some former military officials from nine European countries, including Britain and Russia. Created after the Gulf War in 1991, the commission has never deployed a fact-finding mission.

Liu said MSF is “working on the assumption of a possible war crime,” but said its real goal is to establish facts about the incident and the chain of command, and clear up the rules of operation for all humanitarian organizations in conflict zones.

The strike “was not just an attack on our hospital, it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated,” she told reporters Wednesday.

The U.S. airstrikes have all but shattered the humanitarian aid response in Kunduz.