After Obama Apology, Medical Charity Presses Probe Request

The general director of medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Christopher Stokes, talks as MSF's Country Representative for Afghanistan, Guilhem Molinie, listens during a press conference, in Kabul, Oct. 8, 2015. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)
The general director of medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Christopher Stokes, talks as MSF's Country Representative for Afghanistan, Guilhem Molinie, listens during a press conference, in Kabul, Oct. 8, 2015. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A day after President Barack Obama apologized for a tragic U.S. airstrike that killed at least 22 people at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in northern Afghanistan, the medical charity said Thursday it is continuing to press its demand for an independent investigation of the incident.

The Oct. 3 airstrike took place as Afghan forces were fighting to retake the strategic northern city of Kunduz, which was overrun and briefly held last week by the Taliban. The insurgents, who have been massing around the city for months, launched a multi-pronged attack that took authorities by surprise.

Obama on Wednesday apologized to the organization and said the U.S. would examine military procedures to look for better ways to prevent such incidents.

But scarce details on the erroneous strike have only fueled growing condemnation by MSF, as the charity is known under its French acronym, and other aid groups. Along with a dozen hospital staffers, 10 patients were also killed. The airstrike will likely complicate delicate U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday in Kabul, MSF's general director, Christopher Stokes, reiterated the group's demand for the probe, saying it would be important and a precedent for non-government organizations working in conflict zones worldwide.

Stokes said MSF wanted the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission "to get the facts of what happened, the truth."

The IHFFC is 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.

MSF, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization that provides medical aid in conflict zones, is awaiting responses to letters it sent Tuesday to 76 countries that signed Article 90 of the additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, seeking to mobilize the 15-member commission. The Conventions lay out rules on conduct in armed conflict, mostly on protecting noncombatants.

For the commission 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.

MSF says it has had no response yet from any country.

"It would show a distinct lack of courage if none of the 76 signatories come forward," Stokes said.

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