Afghan forces who were fighting the Taliban requested the US air strike that killed 22 people at a hospital run by aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Saturday in Kunduz, the US commander of international forces in Afghanistan said on Monday.
Contrary to previous statements by the US military that its own troops were under fire and had called in the strike, the US Army General John Campbell stressed that the US forces were not under fire in the strike. Instead, air support from the US forces were requested by Afghan forces when they were taking fire from Taliban, Campbell stated.
"We have now learned that on October 3 Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from the US. forces," he said in a briefing with reporters.
"An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat, and several civilians were accidentally struck."
MSF, an international non-governmental organisation for humanitarian aid, said that the US air attack that killed 22 people in hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz was a war crime.
MSF repeated its call for an independent investigation into the attack.
MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said in a statement on Sunday that Campbell was trying to shift responsibility for the strike to the Afghan government, referring to his comments.
"Their description of the attack keeps changing—from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government," the statement said.
"The reality is the US dropped those bombs. The US hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The US military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack."
The United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said air strike killed 22 people were "tragic, inexcusable and possibly even criminal" as he urged to follow obligations no matter air force is involved, and irrespective of the location.
"International and Afghan military planners have an obligation to respect and protect civilians at all times, and medical facilities and personnel are the object of a special protection." he said.
US Army Brigadier General Richard Kim is in Kunduz now as the senior investigator into the incident, Campbell said.
The White House said on Monday that the US military, NATO and Afghan security officials were also carrying out ongoing probes and it was confident that they would provide reliable results.
"If errors were committed, we'll acknowledge them," Campbell said.
"We'll hold those responsible accountable, and we'll take steps to ensure mistakes are not repeated."
Campbell said he did not reject earlier calls by MSF for an international investigation.
"If there's other investigations out there that need to go on, I'll make sure that we coordinate those as well," Campbell said.
White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday that the US President Barack Obama was confident that three investigations would result in a “full accounting”.
"His expectation is that details won't be...whitewashed...so that if it's necessary to take steps to prevent something like this from ever happening again, that those reforms are implemented promptly and effectively," Earnest said.
Campell said he expected an initial report on the incident "very shortly, in the next couple of days."