Washington: The deadly American air strike on a hospital in northern Afghan city of Kunduz that killed 22 people, including women and children, was a mistake, a top US commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday said as he conceded that they were taken by surprise by the recent Taliban upsurge.
General John Campbell, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, testified before a Senate committee that the investigation into the attack on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital will be "thorough, objective and transparent."
"A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility," he said.
"I must allow the investigation to take its course and, therefore, I'm not at liberty to discuss further specifics at this time. However, I assure you that the investigation will be thorough, objective and transparent," he said three days after the medical clinic strike.
The MSF has branded the attack a war crime, and has pulled out of the Afghan city in the aftermath of the attack.
Campbell also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he thinks US President Barack Obama should revise the plan to cut US forces from 9,800 to about 1,000 in Afghanistan by 2016.
He warned that the "tenuous security situation" in Afghanistan might require a reversal of that drawdown.
Campbell said "based on conditions on the ground, based on the transitions I have talked about, I do believe that we have to provide our senior leadership options different than the current plan that we're going with, absolutely."
He has said the airstrike on the hospital was requested by Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire.
The US has launched an investigation into the October 3 incident. NATO and the Afghan Government too have launched their parallel investigations.
Campbell conceded that not only the Afghans but also the Americans were taken by surprise when the Taliban took control of Kunduz, which has been the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and Afghan authorities in recent days.
"A lot of reasons why the Afghans are taking a hard look as well to make sure they do after action on this. Part of the reason, they didn't have key leaders in place," he said.
He, however, said that the Taliban is unlikely to get control over Afghanistan. "I do not believe that the Taliban would take over the government."
But the Afghan security forces' inconsistent performance in Kunduz underscores several of their shortcomings, he said.
"They must improve their intelligence fusion, command and control, utilisation of their forces," he said.
Referring to the Taliban advances in Kunduz, Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, too called for a review of Obama's decision on troops drawdown.
"A robust and adaptive US troop presence, based on conditions on the ground, not on a calendar, is essential to ensuring that these gains endure. Failure to adopt such a conditions-based plan, these experts have warned, would invite the same tragedy that has unfolded in Iraq since 2011," McCain said.