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U.S. General Says Afghan Forces Requested Airstrike At Kunduz Hospital


There are new developments today concerning a weekend attack in Kunduz, Afghanistan by U.S. forces. An American commander says the strike was targeting Taliban forces near Kunduz. Instead, an American aircraft hit a hospital, killing 22 people, including three children. NPR's Tom Bowman joins us with the latest. And hi, Tom.


MCEVERS: And the top American commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, was at the Pentagon talking about this today with the press. What did he say?

BOWMAN: Well, initially, the U.S. said American soldiers were under attack by the Taliban inside the city of Kunduz right near this hospital and that airstrikes were called in to help them. Now, today, General Campbell corrected the record. He said it was Afghan troops, after all, who were under threat. Let's listen.


GENERAL JOHN CAMPBELL: Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support for the U.S. forces. An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat, and several civilians were accidentally struck.

BOWMAN: Well, as we know now, 22 civilians were killed, dozens more wounded at this hospital run by the group Doctors Without Borders. General Campbell said there were several investigations underway - one by the U.S. Army, another by NATO and still another by the Afghan government.

MCEVERS: And Doctors Without Borders says, you know, the U.S. military knew their precise location, knew that it was a hospital and that this attack went on for half an hour. And they called Afghan and American officials and told them about it. So how could this have happened?

BOWMAN: Well, General Campbell was asked about all of that today. And all he would say was is this will be part of the investigation. He said a U.S. Army general already has arrived in Kunduz, and he said he would assist in any additional investigations.

MCEVERS: Doctors without Borders and also some U.N. officials are calling this a war crime. I mean, could this be considered that?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, no one is supposed to intentionally attack a hospital or a church or a school, for that matter. It violates the laws of war. So some key questions going forward are, you know, whether this will be a violation or not or did they know it was a hospital? Did they have good enemy targets - verified targets - that they felt comfortable shooting at? And also, was it proportionately the right weapon or bomb to use? For example, did they use a massive bomb or shell to take out just a few fighters and clearly risk civilian lives in protected sites like this hospital in the process?

MCEVERS: And the city of Kunduz was attacked by the Taliban last week, and the fighting is still going on. But Doctors Without Borders says that there was no evidence of any Taliban at the hospital.

BOWMAN: That's what they're saying. The U.S. officials I spoke with say there were some Taliban fighters inside the hospital grounds, and those are the ones that were firing on Afghan forces. So the Afghans radio the Americans. And I'm told the Americans, by the way, were about a half-mile away. The Americans called it in an AC-130 gunship, and General Campbell confirmed that that was used. So this is basically, Kelly, a flying battleship. It has three large guns including a Howitzer that can fire a shell the size of a fireplace log. Now, it flies long, low loops above a fight for quite a long time. So that would explain the report from Doctors Without Borders that it was attacking for a half-hour. So that's what we know about that.

MCEVERS: I mean, quickly, Tom, how precise are these aircraft?

BOWMAN: Not as precise as, let's say, a fighter jet that can fire a laser-guided bomb that can take out just part of a building. Now, it's possible that some of the fire from this plane accidentally landed on the hospital, so that's why groups like Human Rights Watch criticize using the AC-130 in urban fights like Kunduz. Back in 2004, one of these planes was used in the battle of Fallujah in Iraq, and some civilians were killed.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.