KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s acting defense minister said on Monday that the Doctors Without Borders hospital in the north of the country that was bombed by U.S. forces was being used by insurgents who were fighting government forces.
Masoom Stanekzai told The Associated Press in an interview that Taliban insurgents and possibly Pakistani operatives of the government’s secret service were using the facility in Kunduz city as a “safe place.”
The hospital was bombed by a U.S. AC-130 gunship in the early hours of Oct. 3, killing at least 22 people and injuring many more. The main building was destroyed and the hospital is no longer operating.
The group, also known by its French acronym MSF, has repeatedly denied the presence of Taliban fighters on the hospital compound at the time of the attack.
Kate Stegeman, MSF’s communications director in Afghanistan said on Monday: “We reiterate that every staff member in Kunduz working for MSF has repeatedly reported to us that there were no armed people in the hospital at the time of the bombing.”
Stanekzai said a Taliban flag had been hoisted on the walls around the hospital 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,” Stanekzai said. “But when there was on one of the walls of the hospital, there was a Taliban flag — what can you think?”
“I am saying the compound was being used by people who were fighting there, whether it was Taliban or ISI or whoever they were,” he said, referring to Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, long accused by Kabul of supporting the Taliban.
Taliban fighters took control of Kunduz on Sept. 28 in a multi-pronged surprise attack. What followed was a three-day looting and killing spree that ended when government forces launched a counter offensive on Oct. 1.
The hospital was bombed repeatedly just after 2 a.m. on Oct. 3. President Barack Obama apologized for the bombing and the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell said it was a mistake. He said airstrike had been called in by Afghan forces.