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An apparent US airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan on Saturday that killed 22 patients and staff was a war crime, the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has said.
The charity withdrew its staff from the city of Kunduz, where the bombing took place, while international pressure grew on the US to launch an independent inquiry into the incident and explain why the hospital had been targeted. The attack killed 12 MSF staff and 10 patients, including three children, and injured dozens.
"Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body," MSF general director Christopher Stokes said.
The US military said on Saturday that it had conducted an air strike "in the vicinity" of the hospital as it targeted Taliban insurgents who were directly firing on American military personnel. It said an investigation had begun, while the White House said in a statement that it expects "a full accounting of the facts and circumstances" of the incident.
On Sunday, Hamdullah Danishi, the acting governor of Kunduz, suggested to the Washington Post that the attack was warranted. "The hospital campus was 100 percent used by the Taliban," he said. "The hospital has a vast garden, and the Taliban were there. We tolerated their firing for some time."
MSF said later that day it was disgusted by the claims, and such statements amounted to an admission that international law had been violated, because the hospital had clearly been deliberately targeted.
"These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present," MSF said.
"This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the US government to minimize the attack as 'collateral damage.' There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds."
MSF said it had recently transmitted the GPS co-ordinates of the long-established hospital to all sides in the fighting. While bombing was taking place it appealed desperately to US and Afghan military contacts to stop the attack but the plea went unheeded. The main building housing the intensive care unit and emergency rooms was "repeatedly, very precisely" hit almost every 15 minutes for more than an hour, the charity said, while most of the rest of the compound went untouched.
US President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ash Carter have promised a full investigation into what they have called a tragic incident, but Stokes said an internal inquiry would be "wholly insufficient."
Reuters contributed to this report.