The Pentagon stands by its investigation into the suicide bombing that killed 13 US service members and scores of Afghans last summer after a CNN investigation raised questions about whether some may have been hit by gunfire. US and coalition service members said they opened fire minutes after the attack, but said they were warning shots that hit no one.
The Pentagon’s investigation, released last week, said everyone died as a result of the attack on August 26, but a four-month-long CNN investigation – which included an interview with a doctor who said he removed bullets from the bodies of several people – raises serious questions about whether the attack was fully investigated.
“We’re going to stand by the investigation, which did not find any conclusive evidence that there was gunfire of any kind by American troops on Afghan citizens,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” Wednesday.
In its own investigation, the US military interviewed 139 people, but investigators did not speak with any Afghan doctors or civilians.
“Did you speak to the people in the hospitals? Did you speak to the doctors in the hospitals?” Blitzer asked Kirby.
“There was no way that we could speak to doctors in the hospitals or those who were treated in those hospitals. Again, the focus of the investigation was to focus on what happened at that blast site and how that occurred,” Kirby replied. “There was lots of interviews, of people that were on scene, both in the military as well as medical personnel on Kabul at the airport. But there was no – this all happened. The investigation happened after we had left. So there was really no ability for them to talk to doctors in Afghan hospitals.”
Pressed on how the Pentagon could be so sure about their own investigation, Kirby said, “They didn’t speak (to the doctors). You are right, they didn’t.”
He went on to say that even American military doctors at first diagnosed gunshot wounds before later realizing the injuries were from 5mm ball bearings packed in the explosive.
“Reading the CNN report, there’s no autopsies that were done by those doctors in those hospitals of Afghans as well,” Kirby noted.
Asked if CNN’s report merited more investigation, Kirby said he respects CNN’s reporting but was “not aware of any effort to relitigate the investigation right now.”
“But surely, look, as we would say in any regard, if additional information comes to light that the department really believes needs to be looked in again, we will certainly do that. But at this time, we stand by the investigators’ finding that there was no gunfire into the crowd by our troops,” Kirby said.
CNN spoke to doctors and medical staff at five hospitals who said they saw gunshot wounds on patients after the deadly attack. An Italian-run emergency hospital told CNN their doctors assessed gunshot wounds on nine victims who arrived after the blast, with seven having been shot in the head.
One Afghan survivor who was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center shared his medical records under the condition of anonymity which showed a gunshot wound to the left chest in addition to blast injuries.
One hospital, Wazir Akbar Khan, received approximately 60 injured people and 145 dead bodies, a doctor from the emergency ward who asked not to be named over safety concerns told CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh.
The doctor said he had examined the bodies both at night to search for anyone who might be alive among the dead and in the morning to look at the nature of the injuries.
“There was two kinds of injuries,” he said. “People burned from the blast with lots of holes in their bodies. But with the gunshot you can see just one or two holes – in the mouth, in the head, in the eye, in the chest.
“I removed bullets from four or five injured (people),” he said.
CNN’s Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.