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Politics & Government

Obama Apologizes To Doctors Without Borders For Kunduz Hospital Attack

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama called the president of Afghanistan and the head of Doctors Without Borders today to apologize. The apology comes five days after the U.S. air strike that destroyed the organization's hospital in Kunduz on Saturday. After it first happened, the U.S. military called the strike collateral damage and then said that it'd been requested by Afghan forces under fire. Yesterday, a U.S. general called it a mistake. The White House is promising full investigations into what happened, but NPR's Quil Lawrence reports that the group says that's not enough.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The U.S. director of Doctors Without Borders, Jason Cone, described the scene inside the hospital in Kunduz after the bombardment.

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JASON CONE: In Kunduz, our patients burned in their beds. Our doctors, nurses and other staff were killed as they worked. Our colleagues had to operate on each other. One of our doctors died on an improvised operating table, an office desk, while his colleagues tried to save his life.

LAWRENCE: The U.S. military says Afghan Special Forces near the hospital called American Special Forces half a mile away. They sent the barrage of artillery at the hospital. This, despite the fact that Afghan and American officials had been reminded just days earlier of the hospital's precise location. Today, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was saddened by the incident and still waiting for a complete explanation from the Department of Defense.

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JOSH EARNEST: The Department of Defense goes to great lengths to prevent civilian casualties and certainly civilian deaths in their operations. But in this case, there was a mistake, and it's one that the United States owns up to.

LAWRENCE: Three investigations are underway by the Pentagon, NATO and the Afghan government. But with accounts changing as the days go on, Doctors Without Borders called for an independent investigation by the Geneva Convention's Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. Again, Jason Cone.

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CONE: We are calling on President Obama to consent to the Fact-Finding Commission. Doing so will send a powerful signal of the U.S. government's commitment to and respect for international humanitarian law and the rules of war.

LAWRENCE: One of 76 signatory countries has to sponsor an investigation in order to activate the Fact-Finding Commission. That's never happened since the commission was created in 1991. Today, the White House said it has confidence that the U.S. military will conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into how American bombs landed on the hospital, killing 22 doctors, nurses and patients. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.