White House: Doctors Without Borders Incident Is “Profound Tragedy”

There will be three investigations into the incident, the White House press secretary said Monday.

Alex Wong AFP/Getty
Oct. 5, 2015, 2:52 p.m.

The White House said Monday that there will be three in­vest­ig­a­tions in­to an air­strike that dam­aged a hos­pit­al op­er­ated by Doc­tors Without Bor­ders in Afgh­anistan. The aid group said 22 people, three of whom were chil­dren, were killed in the strike, which oc­curred early Sat­urday morn­ing.

At a press brief­ing, White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est called the event a “pro­found tragedy,” one that was “sig­ni­fic­ant enough” to war­rant a full in­vest­ig­a­tion by the United States.

There will be a De­fense De­part­ment in­vest­ig­a­tion, a NATO in­vest­ig­a­tion, and a col­lab­or­at­ive in­vest­ig­a­tion between U.S. mil­it­ary forces and Afghan se­cur­ity of­fi­cials. The De­fense in­vest­ig­a­tion, Earn­est noted, has already be­gun and is be­ing led by Bri­gadier Gen­er­al Richard Kim.

“We’re talk­ing about doc­tors, who have left the safety and com­fort of their homes, to travel to a re­mote re­gion of the world that every­body knows is dan­ger­ous, and they are risk­ing their lives to use the skills that they have de­veloped to try to provide for the ba­sic med­ic­al needs of people who live in this com­munity,” Earn­est said. “And the fact that some of those in­di­vidu­als lost their lives over the week­end is a pro­found tragedy, and noth­ing less.”

Doc­tors Without Bor­ders has called it a “war crime” and, in the wake of the vi­ol­ence, ceased op­er­a­tions in the city.  

However, Earn­est de­clined to call the in­cid­ent a war crime. “I wouldn’t use a la­bel like that be­cause this is something that con­tin­ues to be un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion,” he said.

Earn­est re­as­sured re­port­ers “that there is no coun­try in the world and no mil­it­ary in the world that goes to great­er lengths and places a high­er premi­um on avoid­ing ci­vil­ian cas­u­al­ties than the United States De­part­ment of De­fense.”

The White House spokes­man also took a small swipe at the Taliban. That em­phas­is on avoid­ing ci­vil­ian deaths, Earn­est said, “cer­tainly stands in stark con­trast to the kinds of tac­tics that we see from oth­er fight­ing forces around the world—in­clud­ing even the Taliban—that in some cases doesn’t just dis­reg­ard the ex­ist­ence of ci­vil­ians but ac­tu­ally con­siders the pres­ence of ci­vil­ians an ap­peal­ing tar­get.” 

However, Earn­est then noted, “that does not in any way di­min­ish the ex­pect­a­tion of the com­mand­er in chief that the De­part­ment of De­fense will con­tin­ue to pri­or­it­ize pre­vent­ing ci­vil­ian cas­u­al­ties.”  

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