Afghanistan’s acting defense minister says a Doctors Without Borders hospital bombed by U.S. forces was being used as a base by militants and had a Taliban flag hoisted on the walls around the compound.
"That was a place they wanted to use as a safe place because everybody knows that our security forces and international security forces were very careful not to do anything with a hospital," Masoom Stanekzai said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But when there was on one of the walls of the hospital, there was a Taliban flag — what can you think?"
Doctors Without Borders officials have repeatedly denied Taliban fighters were using the hospital. The group has said it treated wounded Taliban fighters in line with its policy to treat everyone but that no weapons were allowed in the hospital.
In a separate interview with the AP published Sunday, the charity’s general director repeated that assertion.
“The compound was not entered by Taliban soldiers with weapons," Christopher Stokes said. "What we have understood from our staff and guards is that there was very strong, very good control of what was happening in and around the compound, and they reported no firing in the hours preceding the destruction of the hospital."
He also said the “extensive, quite precise destruction” of the hospital indicated the bombing was not a mistake.
Doctors Without Borders has called for an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission into the bombing.
The commission has said it would conduct the investigation but needs the consent of both the United States and Afghanistan. A Change.org petition started by Doctors Without Borders calling on President Obama to consent to the investigation has garnered more than 200,000 signatures.
Stanekzai told the AP his government would not support the commission’s investigation.
“If you increase the number of commissions and investigating teams, that will make it more complicated instead of getting into the facts,” he said. “Already there are three investigations; how many more do you need?"
Pentagon, NATO and Afghan officials are investigating the bombing.
The bombing on the hospital in Kunduz on Oct. 3 killed at least 22 people. U.S. officials have said the airstrike was requested by Afghan forces under fire from the Taliban and that the hospital was mistakenly hit.
Last week, the AP reported, citing an anonymous former intelligence official, that special operations analysts had been investigating the hospital prior to the bombing because they believed a Pakistani operative was working there to coordinate Taliban activity.
It’s unclear whether the intelligence was given to the commanders and pilots carrying out the airstrike on the hospital.
Stanekzai told the AP his government has evidence Taliban insurgents were communicating with control centers in Pakistan.
“We have traced very clearly the communications they were receiving from Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi," he said. "That also means that there are bases there from where they are making those calls and long-range radio communications. That is, quite frankly, clear that communication did exist."