MSF/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(KUNDUZ, Afghanistan) -- The U.S. military is investigating an airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, early Saturday that struck a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing at least 19 and injuring 37.
The international aid organization has condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms” and demanded an independent investigation into the circumstances that led to the airstrike.
In a statement, Doctors Without Borders said 19 people were killed at the hospital including 12 staff members and seven patients, three of them children. The 37 wounded included 19 staff members.
The coalition in Afghanistan acknowledged in a statement that U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Kunduz early Saturday at 2:15 a.m. local time "against insurgents who were directly firing upon U.S. service members advising and assisting Afghan Security Forces in the city of Kunduz. The strike was conducted in the vicinity of a Doctors Without Borders medical facility."
“This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law,” said Meinie Nicolai, President of Doctors Without Borders. “We demand total transparency from Coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage.’”
“All indications currently point to the bombing being carried out by international Coalition forces. MSF demands a full and transparent account from the Coalition regarding its aerial bombing activities over Kunduz on Saturday morning,” said a statement from Doctors Without Borders which is known in French as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
“MSF also calls for an independent investigation of the attack to ensure maximum transparency and accountability,” the statement continued.
“A full investigation into the tragic incident is underway in coordination with the Afghan government, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement. ”While we are still trying to determine exactly what happened, I want to extend my thoughts and prayers to everyone affected.”
The area has been the scene of intense fighting the last few days,” Carter said. "U.S. forces in support of Afghan Security Forces were operating nearby, as were Taliban fighters."
Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. and coalition commander in Afghanistan, phoned Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani earlier today to express his condolences.
"While we work to thoroughly examine the incident and determine what happened, my thoughts and prayers are with those affected. We continue to advise and assist our Afghan partners as they clear the city of Kunduz and surrounding areas of insurgents. As always, we will take all reasonable steps to protect civilians from harm,” Campbell said.
A one-star general will head the investigation into the airstrike, a U.S. official told ABC News.
On Thursday, the Afghan government claimed it had retaken main parts of Kunduz which had come under Taliban control on Monday, but the city continues to be the scene of intense fighting as Afghan security forces clear out Taliban fighters from pockets of the city.
Sayed Hussaini, a spokesperson for the Kunduz police chief, told ABC News that Taliban fighters were firing at Afghan forces from a building adjacent to the hospital. “As the ground forces were going building to building to clear the area they were engaged with Taliban close to the hospital,” Hussaini said.
“The Taliban were firing on them from the wall beside the hospital on them," he added.
A U.S. official told ABC News that an American AC-130 gunship was operating in the area and firing at a position the Taliban was using to fire on U.S. special operations forces serving alongside afghan special operations forces as advisers. U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan serve as advisers but when under fire they are allowed to return fire and call in air support to defend themselves.
The official said the hospital was in an active combat area and that officials are still trying to determine the circumstances of the damage caused to the hospital and whether Taliban were firing from inside the hospital or whether the hospital was hit inadvertently.
The AC-130 “Spectre” gunship is a fixed wing propeller aircraft that can provide close air support to ground troops. It is equipped with a howitzer that can strike repeatedly at ground targets.
According to a Doctors Without Borders statement, between 2:08 a.m. and 3:15 a.m. local time, its trauma hospital in Kunduz “was hit by a series of aerial bombing raids at approximately 15-minute intervals. The main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward, was repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.“
“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round,” said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF Head of Programs in northern Afghanistan. “There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds."
Doctors Without Borders said the aerial attack took place despite the fact that it had recently provided the hospital’s GPS coordinates to the coalition and Afghan government on Tuesday. At the time of the attack, the hospital was treating 105 patients and more than 80 medical staffers were present.
In a statement of condolences, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “ Doctors Without Borders perform extraordinary humanitarian work across the world, including in Afghanistan. They play an important role in helping create the conditions for a better future for the Afghan people.”
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images(ROME) -- A top Vatican official reveals he is gay and calls for change from the Catholic church.
According to Polish priest and Vatican doctrinal official Krysztof Charamsa, he was dismissed from his position at the Holy See office by the Vatican after he told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper he was gay.
At a press conference in Rome on Saturday he blasted the Catholic church. He listed 10 demands of the Vatican, such as speaking out against "correctional therapy" that aims to turn gay people straight, and adjusting language in its doctrine that refers to gays and lesbians with harsh terms.
"It's time for the Church to open its eyes about gay Catholics and to understand that the solution it proposes to them -- total abstinence from a life of love -- is inhuman," he said in an earlier interview with Corriere della Sera.
The Vatican responded by calling Charamsa's interview and press conference "grave and irresponsible," considering it was the day before the Vatican would hold a synod of bishops to discuss family issues and hosted by Pope Francis.
iStock/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- More attacks from Russian warplanes in Syria.
New airstrikes have hit ISIS fighters in Syria as well as other terrorist groups, reportedly killing dozens.
The airstrikes started earlier this week, with Russia so far carrying out about 60 attacks in the northern and central areas of Syria.
According to Russian military officials, the purpose of the airstrikes is to target ISIS fighters, although witnesses have said the strikes are also hitting groups of rebels armed and supported by the U.S.
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has decried the strategy employed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria as a "recipe for disaster."
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, the president reflected on his first formal meeting with Putin in more than two years on Monday at the United Nations General Assembly.
President Obama said he had fundamental differences with Putin on moving forward in the strategy to eliminate ISIS terrorists from the country, accusing Russia's bombing campaign in the country as counterproductive as they prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with military support.
He specifically condemned the Russians for their three-day bombing campaign in Syria that the U.S. said has targeted moderate rebel groups, not ISIS.
"From [Russia's] perspective they're all terrorists, and that's a recipe for disaster," Obama said. "And it's one that I reject."
Despite a meeting that White House officials called “productive,” President Obama’s words for Putin were harsh as he said Russia’s military actions in Syria are isolating itself from the world.
“Mr. Putin had to go into Syria not out of strength but out of weakness, because his client, Mr. Assad, was crumbling,” the president said. “Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin's coalition at the moment. The rest of the world makes up ours. I don't think people are fooled by the current strategy.”
The U.S., along with six partner countries in the anti-ISIS coalition, issued a statement earlier Friday condemning Russia's bombing campaign, saying the attacks did not target ISIS and resulted in civilian casualties.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Ten Americans were among the 14 people killed by the crash of an Air Force C-130J cargo plane Thursday night as it took off from an airfield in eastern Afghanistan, authorities said Friday. Investigators are focusing on an engine failure or the clipping of a security barrier as possible causes for the crash.
The Air Force C-130J was assigned to the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing and crashed at 12:19 a.m. at Jalalabad Airfield in eastern Afghanistan, the Air Force said in a statement confirming the crash.
It identified a crew of six American service members and five civilian passengers, whom defense officials said were contractors.
A Defense Department official told ABC News that four of the five contractors were also Americans.
The official said that three Afghan security personnel were also killed on the ground by the crash.
"The aircraft crash site is contained wholly within the confines of the airfield," said Major Tony Wickman, a spokesman for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing in Afghanistan.
There are no indications of enemy fire as the Taliban claimed in a statement.
The Defense Department official indicated that investigators are looking at a possible engine fire or the possible clipping of a security barrier as the C-130 took off.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter expressed condolences to the families of those killed in the crash.
“While we are still trying to determine exactly what happened, this is a reminder of the risks that our men and women face serving their country in remote places all over the world,” Carter said in a statement. “We remain committed with our coalition partners to helping the people of Afghanistan build a secure and peaceful country.”
MatthewBrosseau/iStock/Thinkstock(MUNICH) -- The United States and six coalition nations working to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria issued a joint declaration on Friday, condemning Russian military activity in Syria that they say isn't focused on defeating the militant group.
"We express our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria and especially the attacks by the Russian Air Force on Hama, Homs and Idlib since yesterday which led to civilian casualties and did not target [ISIS]," read a statement from the governments of the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. "These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization."
The seven governments called for Russia to "immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians," and to instead "focus its efforts on fighting [ISIS]."
The statement was released just hours before a scheduled meeting between French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Friday, the Russian military announced that it had launched 18 more combat missions, attacking 12 ISIS facilities within Syria. Those strikes destroyed a command and communication center, bunkers, ammunition and other ISIS-controlled facilities.
Some of the strikes were aimed around ISIS' defacto "capital," the city of Raqqa.
(File photo) | YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images(KANAGAWA, Japan) — In a country famous for computer-powered toilets, customer service droids, and a budding sex robot industry, perhaps it's not a shock that Japan will soon be launching driver-less taxis.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Robot Taxi Inc., along with Japan’s cabinet office and officials from the Kanagawa prefecture, announced on Thursday that a fleet of unmanned taxis will hit the road as a pilot program starting in 2016.
The experiment will make the taxi 'bots available for grocery store runs for 50 people who live in the prefecture that just south of Tokyo.
For the time being, techs will accompany the passengers as a safety measure just in case there's a need for human intervention to avoid accidents.
Lou Rocco/ABC(NEW YORK) — With the world facing a refugee crisis as millions of people flee war-torn Syria, the Queen of Jordan, on Syria’s border, says people have to do more than just “click ‘like’” on social media if they want to help — or they risk seeing their values “start to erode.”
“When people look at some of these, the crisis that we see like the refugees, and they ask, ‘Well, what can we do?’ but then you have to act,” Queen Rania of Jordan said in an interview taped last week that aired Friday on ABC's Good Morning America.
“Acting doesn't just mean you just click ‘like’ and move on to the next post because, you know, you assume that somebody else will do something about it,” she said. “You are that somebody else. You've got to act on your values, because if you don't, they just slip away.”
Queen Rania's country of Jordan has been hit particularly hard by the civil war in Syria, watching a flood of 600,000 refugees come into Jordan from the neighboring country during the most recent wave of the crisis.
Queen Rania’s husband, King Abdullah of Jordan, spoke out about the crisis at the United Nations’ gathering of world leaders last month.
On Tuesday, 19 countries announced they are donating $1.8 billion to the top U.N. aid organizations to help alleviate the suffering of refugees in places like Jordan.
“We do need assistance from the international community. Jordan is a small country that's quite resource poor, so it's really been a major issue for us,” Queen Rania said on GMA. “The Syrian refugee crisis is a true humanitarian catastrophe.
“I think people don't realize the magnitude of the numbers,” she said. “250,000 Syrians have lost their lives as a result of this conflict. Half of the population of Syria have left their homes; seven million of them are internally displaced and four million have become refugees.”
The refugee crisis has also become a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail in the United States, with the leading Republican contender, Donald Trump, saying of the refugees that, if he wins, “they’re going back.”
President Obama directed his administration early last month to take in at least 10,000 displaced Syrians over the course of the next year. The United States has admitted 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the four-year conflict and hopes to get to 1,800 by the end of the fiscal year.
“I think we all have to work together to try to find a cohesive and comprehensive and unified approach to this,” Queen Rania said of the Obama administration’s offer, adding that the United States or Europe should not “shoulder the burden” alone.
Her Majesty, a 45-year-old mother-of-four, urged citizens, politicians and world leaders to take a humanitarian approach with the refugees.
“I think the first thing we need to do is really put our self in their shoes,” she said. “These people are not leaving by choice and that's the difference between migrants and refugees.
“You know, migrants choose to go to another country because they want a better job or they want education, but refugees are running for their lives,” she added. “When I look at a country like the United States, it baffles me that people don't understand it because this a country where immigrants have done so much, and can you imagine what the United States would've been like without the contribution of, the valuable contribution, of so many immigrants?”
The queen said she believes some of the failure to act quickly on the refugee crisis might stem from the fact that the majority of the refugees are Arabs and Muslims.
“There’s been a stereotype now that’s been festering for so many years because extremists have really dominated the agenda and have, I think, caused a lot of fear and mistrust and intolerance toward Arabs and Muslims,” Queen Rania said.
She met recently with a Muslim-American teenager Ahmed Mohamed, who made headlines in the United States last month when he was arrested at his Texas high school after bringing a homemade clock to school and having it mistaken for a bomb.
Attention focused on whether Mohamed, who is now being home-schooled, was deemed suspicious and treated differently because of his religion.
“I think it's kind of to the fact that some of these stereotypes can sneak out our subconscious without us knowing and make us make grave misjudgments of people,” Queen Rania said. “And sometimes cause them a great deal of unfairness and injustice. “
JHUAPL/SwRI/NASA (NEW YORK) — The cracks, bruises and colorful spots on Pluto's largest moon, Charon, are captured in stunning new detail in photos sent back to Earth by NASA's New Horizons probe.
The high-resolution images of Charon show the complex terrain covered in mountains and craters. A canyon system stretching 1,000 miles across the face of Charon is four times as long as the Grand Canyon and twice as deep in places, indicating a violent tectonic history.
"We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low," Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team said in a statement, adding the team "couldn't be more delighted with what we see."
Plains south of the canyon are noticeably younger than the large cratered regions to the north, indicating signs of wide-scale resurfacing on Charon, according to NASA researchers.
The photos are the latest to be released as New Horizons continues to send a trove of data and photos from its July 14 flyby back to Earth. With data downlinking at a rate of about 1 to 4 kilobits per second, it's expected the entire trove of science will take one year to be transmitted back to Earth.
Launched in January 2006 on a 3-billion-mile journey to Pluto, New Horizons "phoned home" after its Pluto flyby, indicating that it had successfully navigated just 7,700 miles from the dwarf planet. It later sent back the first high-resolution images of Pluto's surface.
New Horizons conserved energy by taking "naps" during the monumental trip. The spacecraft, equipped with a battery that converts radiation from decaying plutonium into electricity, may have enough power for two more decades of exploration, according to NASA.
The piano-sized probe is speeding through the Kuiper Belt, an area at the edge of the solar system encompassing Pluto and a vast area of tiny, icy worlds. After the intensive data transmission process, NASA is considering another flyby of a Kuiper belt object known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto.
New Horizons loses about a few watts of power each year, according to NASA, but is estimated to have as much as 20 years left in its life expectancy.
neneos/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(VATICAN CITY) -- The Vatican is clarifying the nature of a meeting that took place between Pope Francis and Kentucky Court Clerk Kim Davis last week, denying that it represented his support of her position.
Characterizing the meeting as brief, Director of the Vatican Press Office Federico Lombardi said that it came as the pope prepared to leave Washington, D.C. for New York City. Davis was among "several dozen persons" who had been invited to greet the pope as he left.
"Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope's characteristic kindness and availability," Lombardi noted. "The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family."
Lombardi further said that Pope Francis "did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects."
File photo. Staff Sgt. R.J. Biermann, U.S. Air Force(JALALABAD, Afghanistan) -- Fourteen people were killed when a U.S. Air Force C-130J transport aircraft crashed in eastern Afghanistan as it was approaching the airport in Jalalabad, officials said.
A defense official told ABC News that there were a total of 11 passengers on the aircraft -- six American crew members and five passengers who were contractors.
The official said there were at least an additional three Afghan locals who were killed on the ground as a result of the crash.
There is no information on the nationalities of the contractors.
Another official said there were no initial indications that the aircraft crashed as the result of hostile fire.
U.S. Central Command confirmed the crash that occurred shortly after midnight Thursday local time.
"We are still conducting an initial assessment of what happened," said Major Genieve David, a Centcom spokesperson.
Two U.S. officials said that the aircraft was on approach to the airport when it crashed.
The C-130 is a workhorse in Afghanistan serving as both a cargo and personnel transport capable of landing on short runways which allows it to touch down in remote areas.
There are still 9,800 American military troops serving in Afghanistan as part of a training mission that is set to conclude at the end of next year. Most of the American service members conduct their training at a small number of large bases located in Afghanistan, including Forward Operating Base Fenty which is located in Jalalabad and has served as a major operations hub for the past decade.
The C-130J is the most modern version of the storied transport aircraft and is equipped with some of the most sophisticated navigational equipment.
NASIR WAQIF/AFP/Getty Images(KUNDUZ, Afghanistan) — The Afghan government claims that its military forces have retaken the northern city of Kunduz that was seized by hundreds of Taliban fighters on Monday. A large Afghan force, supported by American airstrikes, retook the city in a bloody fight that the Afghan military says killed 150 Taliban fighters and injured 90. It is expected that Taliban fighters outside the city could soon launch a new offensive against Afghan military forces.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced Thursday that Afghan military forces had retaken Kunduz following a six-hour assault on hundreds of Taliban fighters.
“We thank God we had no fatalities," Ghani claimed as he praised Afghan security forces who “were able to foil one of the most significant operations to have taken place in Afghanistan in fourteen years.”
American officials had acknowledged that the Taliban’s takeover of Kunduz was a setback for Afghan security forces that have received U.S. and NATO training for more than a decade.
A U.S. official told ABC News that while Kunduz is back in the hands of the Afghan military, the city will likely remain contested as the Taliban has massed forces outside the city in an attempt to retake it.
Appearing alongside Ghani, Afghan Interior Minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi praised the performance of Afghan security forces.
"We never took our eyes off the ball," he said. "We had to protect citizens and so the security forces retreated."
The Afghan counteroffensive was supported by American and coalition special forces.
A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul confirmed that American military aircraft conducted as many as five airstrikes “to eliminate threats to coalition and Afghan forces.”
The U.S. still has 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, serving as part of a training mission that will conclude by the end of next year. After that planned draw down the only U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would involve several hundred personnel at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
The Taliban takeover of Kunduz has raised concerns that the Afghan security forces may not be ready to fend off expected Taliban offensives once American troops leave at the end of next year.
U.S. officials confirm that General John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has prepared troop level options that could keep a U.S. military force in Afghanistan beyond 2016.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The United States and Russia began talks via video link Thursday to keep their respective military aircraft from coming into contact over the skies of Syria, where both countries are now conducting airstrike operations.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials said that it was clear that ISIS was not targeted by Russian aircraft on Wednesday.
On Monday, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that both nations should work out details to hold the talks as it appeared that Russia would soon begin air operations in Syria.
Two days later, U.S. officials were surprised that Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria even before details had been worked out for when to hold the talks.
The U.S. did not receive advance notification of the start of the Russian airstrikes until an hour before when a Russian general went to the American embassy in Baghdad to request that American aircraft vacate the area where the missions would strike.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter later described that initial Russian contact as a “drop in” and labeled that kind of notification as “unprofessional." He told reporters that his goals for the talks to “de-conflict” Syrian airspace would be “to facilitate the flow of information between coalition forces and Russian elements that will help us maintain the safety of our personnel in the region, which is critical. To ensure that any additional Russian actions do not interfere with our coalition's efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. And to clarify that broader U.S. security commitments in the region remain unchanged."
Defense officials confirmed that the talks began Thursday morning via a secure video conference between officials at the Pentagon and their Russian counterparts.
The U.S. team is headed by Elissa Slotkin, the acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs and vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, the Joint Staff’s Director of Strategic Plans and Policy.
A military spokesman in Baghdad said the Russian strikes had not affected U.S. air operations over Syria.
Warren confirmed that Russian aircraft conducted more than half a dozen strikes on Wednesday, but did not have information as to how many airstrikes may have taken place today.
“In the last 24 hours, we have conducted several sorties over Syria,” said Col. Steve Warren. “We have not altered operations in Syria to accommodate new players on the battlefield.”
While noting that there is always the risk of a miscalculation or inadvertent contact involving aircraft from different nations over the skies of Syria, he also noted there are “a lot of square miles in Syria”and American pilots “have terrific situation awareness.”
Warren said that even though Russia has claimed that it is striking at ISIS targets inside Syria, “We don't believe that they struck ISIL targets.“
A U.S. official told ABC News that Wednesday's airstrikes near Homs and Hama struck al Nusra and Free Syrian Army locations. The Free Syrian Army is a moderate opposition force that has received assistance from the U.S. for several years. There were also reports that other groups that have received training and equipment from the CIA were also struck by Russian airstrikes.
“When they said that they planned to strike ISIL. And yet, where they struck yesterday, we don't believe there was any ISIL there,” said Warren using another acronym for ISIS. “So that's a problem, right?,”said Warren. “The Russians have said that they're going to do one thing, and here they are doing something different than that, which we, of course, have seen before."
NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA(NEW YORK) — NASA's Dawn probe has unlocked new mysteries about the terrain of the dwarf planet Ceres, including irregularly shaped craters and a solitary 4-mile-high mountain.
New images and data sent back to Earth from the mission have captivated scientists — while also raising new questions about the dwarf planet's topographical features.
"Ceres continues to amaze, yet puzzle us, as we examine our multitude of images, spectra and now energetic particle bursts," Chris Russell, Dawn's principal investigator, said in a statement.
One of the new mysteries includes observations from Dawn's gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, which found that three bursts of energized electrons could possibly be the result of interaction between Ceres and the sun's radiation, however the hypothesis is still being investigated.
Another shows the cone-shaped 4-mile-high mountain in the Occator crater, which is also home to some of Ceres' brightest spots. Scientists are still trying to determine what processes could have created the mountain or shaped Ceres' irregular craters.
Nearly 600 miles in diameter, about 25 percent of Ceres' mass is believed to be ice. Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will begin this month descending to its lowest orbit of Ceres, reaching an altitude of 230 miles. The probe has been orbiting Ceres since March and will continue studying the dwarf planet through June 2016.