US military to brief lawmakers on airstrike that killed dozens of civilians

The Pentagon’s top brass may meet with select congressional members on Wednesday as the US investigation into the airstrike that killed dozens of civilians is still underway, according to a memo released by multiple news outlets.

After a Monday meeting with his top generals, Defense secretary Jim Mattis postponed a scheduled trip to Afghanistan for October “to focus on this US investigation into the deadly bombing of a hospital that Doctors Without Borders said killed 70 people,” according to a press release.

“During the briefing, we asked Secretary Mattis to coordinate an early briefing with members of Congress and he agreed,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the lawmakers invited, said in a statement. “He looks forward to hearing from the military in the coming days on how the investigation into the bombing is progressing and on the next steps in our strategy to combat the Taliban.”

Civilian casualties are a point of contention between the US military and Afghan authorities. In October 2017, President Trump vowed to ramp up the pace of operations in Afghanistan, setting an open-ended goal of destroying the Taliban. At the time, while he did not provide a timeline for the goal, he said an initial focus would be on destroying sanctuaries where terrorists could plot attacks on Americans.

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The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, recently called on the US to let him conduct his own military operations against Taliban. He said last week that the US airstrikes caused casualties among the Afghan people “hurt by the brutal missile strikes” and rejected the assertion that the Taliban were fighting to establish a caliphate in the country.

“Why do the American attacks target our innocent civilians and innocent doctors in this hospital in the center of Kabul when the Americans had such a great number of rooms for terrorists in their own (neighbouring) compounds?” Ghani asked in the statement.

On Tuesday, an army spokesman announced that preliminary tests had found anthrax bacteria in the airstrike that killed the hospital. However, the doctor in charge of the hospital told the Associated Press that the source of the anthrax could have been from discarded containers from the incinerator that takes used drugs and destroys them.

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The US investigation into the strike is ongoing and officials have not yet commented on the status of it. An initial military assessment, however, concluded that the US struck a medical facility and that it appeared the hospital was being used for “the purpose of providing medical care to those who have been wounded by insurgent activity”.

On Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the US needed to “hunt down” the individuals responsible for the “unjustifiable loss of life”.

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