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Death toll rises to 25 in Afghanistan hospital strike, as Pentagon report is delayed

Staff members of Doctors Without Borders were among the casualties of the U.S. airstrike on the charity's hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Staff members of Doctors Without Borders were among the casualties of the U.S. airstrike on the charity’s hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

(Doctors Without Borders)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon’s preliminary report on the deadly U.S. strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan is taking longer than expected, as the humanitarian group confirmed the death toll from the attack is still rising.

Doctors Without Borders said Friday that one more staff member was confirmed to have been killed with two additional patients presumed dead, bringing the total to 25 victims.

“Efforts are ongoing to determine the identities of seven other unrecognizable bodies found in the wreck of the hospital, all of whom have now been buried,” said the medical charity — also known by its French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres, in a statement. “These unfortunately may not be final numbers.”

The Pentagon had expected to issue initial findings this week on the Oct. 3 attack on the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, but Carter said that report was not yet complete.

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“We want to get this done, but we want to get it done right,” Carter said at a Pentagon press briefing. “Accountability is part of our obligation to those who died in Kunduz and it must inform everything we do here at the Department of Defense.”

The Pentagon, NATO and the Afghan government are conducting separate investigations into one of the worst U.S. attacks resulting in civilian casualties since the war began 14 years ago.

Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has already called the airstrike a mistake. But it remains unclear how the mistake happened.

The strike occurred as the Taliban grabbed control of Kunduz, a city of 300,000 people — the first time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that they had seized a major Afghan city.

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The airstrike was carried out by an AC-130 gunship on behalf of Afghan forces under attack by the Taliban. The low-flying aircraft, armed with large-caliber Gatling guns, strafed the hospital for half an hour.

American troops were advising the Afghans who requested the airstrike, but it remained unclear how close they were to the fighting.

Doctors Without Borders, operating the only trauma center of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, was treating 105 patients, including a few wounded Taliban fighters at the time. It has repeatedly said that it had given its GPS coordinates to the U.S. military before and during the attack.

The Pentagon has offered few details of how American troops aboard an AC-130 gunship failed to realize that they were repeatedly bombarding the hospital – a campus occupying an area roughly the size of two football fields and surrounded mostly by empty land, except for a few houses across the road to the east.

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The strike resulted in international outcry, including an apology from President Obama to Doctors Without Borders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Pentagon said it would pay to repair the hospital and has teams on the ground to work with families and civilians to determine appropriate payments.

Follow @wjhenn for military and defense info.

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