The US defense secretary, Ash Carter, on Sunday repeated of a “full and transparent” investigation into whether his country’s military was responsible for an airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan run by Médecins Sans Frontières.
MSF said the airstrike killed 22 aid workers and patients – three of them children – in a bombardment which it said continued for 30 minutes in the early hours of Saturday, despite appeals to Afghan and US contacts.
MSF also said it had recently transmitted the GPS coordinates of the long-established hospital to all sides in the fighting.
On Saturday acknowledged a strike had been carried out by US forces in Kunduz “against individuals threatening the force”.
The spokesman also said: “The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”
In a statement later in the day, Obama said: “The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgment as to the circumstances of this tragedy.”
On Sunday, MSF’s general director, Christopher Stokes, called the strike a war crime and added that “relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient”.
Carter, who was speaking to reporters shortly before landing in Spain at the start of a five-day European visit, said: “We do know that American air assets … were engaged in the Kunduz vicinity. And we do know that the structures that – you see in the news – were destroyed.
“I just can’t tell you what the connection is at this time.”
Stokes rejected Afghan claims that Taliban fighters had been in the hospital grounds. The Taliban , before Afghan government forces backed by advisers from international special forces counterattacked, . Fighting continued around the city on Sunday.
On Sunday, Hamdullah Danishi, the acting governor of Kunduz, : “The hospital campus was 100% used by the Taliban. The hospital has a vast garden, and the Taliban were there. We tolerated their firing for some time.”
Stokes said: “Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the US airstrike on Saturday morning.
“The hospital was full of MSF staff, patients and their caretakers. It is 12 MSF staff members and 10 patients, including three children, who were killed in the attack.”
Stokes also said: “Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body. Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.”
On his plane, Carter said: “The situation there is confused and complicated. So it may take some time to get the facts, but we will get the facts and we will be full and transparent about sharing them.”
Carter said the US would hold accountable “anybody responsible for doing something they shouldn’t have done”.
Asked if the US would rule out further airstrikes in Kunduz, Carter said the decision was up to the commander in .
“General John Campbell will take whatever actions he thinks are appropriate,” he said.
Campbell is weighing whether to slow the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, where the US has maintained a military presence since 2001.
Carter is due to spend five days in Europe, where he will attend a conference in Brussels and meet members of the US armed forces and defence ministers in Spain, Italy and Britain. He is due back in Washington on Friday.