Pentagon changes story on hospital airstrike in Afghanistan

It's proving difficult to get a straight answer about why a hospital in Afghanistan was bombed over the weekend.

Two days after the U.S. airstrike that destroyed this hospital in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has now changed its story on how and why the attack happened. It was not -- as was first said -- called in by U.S. forces under threat while working with Afghan government troops trying to retake Kunduz from the Taliban. The airstrike was called in by the Afghans themselves, U.S. General John Campbell said.

Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S forces. An airstrike was then called to end the Taliban threat.

Civilians were struck -- ten patients and twelve staff members -- killed by the devastating firepower of an AC-130 gunship. The attack went on for an hour.

U.S. warplanes may have hit Afghan medical clinic

The hospital was run by the international medical charity, Doctors Without Borders, which bravely operates in many of the world's war zones. And it insists it had specifically informed both U.S. and Afghan authorities of the hospital's location.

As for the Kabul government's claim that the Taliban were firing from around the hospital compound, the group's executive-director, Vickie Hawkins, insists that was not the case. "The comments coming from the Afghan government are absolutely outrageous, justifying the destruction of a fully functioning hospital," Hawkins said.

The Pentagon, NATO and the Afghans are now conducting investigations. Medicins Sans Frontieres, an international and independent medical humanitarian organization, says the only credible inquiry must be international and independent.

Beyond the tragedy, the airstrike raises questions about how U.S. airpower in Afghanistan is controlled and about the rules of engagement that are used. The airstrike also questions whether designated areas, like hospitals, can become free-fire zones.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.