MADRID — Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Sunday promised a full and transparent investigation into whether a U.S. aircraft providing support for American and Afghan commandos was responsible for the explosions that destroyed a hospital in northern Afghanistan, killing 22 people.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to Spain, Carter said: "The situation there is confused and complicated, so it may take some time to get the facts, but we will get the facts."
He said he spoke to Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and to Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during his flight to Madrid, adding that "there will be accountability as always in these incidents, if that is required."
Carter said he told Campbell to make sure that the U.S. provides any medical care needed for those in the northern city of Kunduz.
U.S. officials said American special operations forces advising Afghan commandos in the vicinity of the hospital requested the air support when they came under fire in Kunduz. The officials said the AC-130 gunship responded and fired on the area, but Carter said it's not certain yet whether that was what destroyed the hospital.
Carter said he believes the U.S. will have better information in the coming days, once U.S. and international investigators get access to the hospital site.
Officials said the senior U.S. military investigator is in Kunduz but hasn't yet been able to get to the site because it continues to be a contested area between the Afghans and the Taliban militants. The officials were not authorized to discuss the incident publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Carter is in the first day of a weeklong trip to Europe. He will visit Spain, Italy and London for meetings with top defense leaders. He also will attend a NATO meeting of defense ministers in Brussels.
Earlier this year, Carter visited Estonia and met with eastern European defense chiefs, announcing he will send tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment to six former Soviet bloc nations to help reassure NATO allies facing threats from Russia.
This trip will focus more on the threats to southern Europe, including Russian aggression as well as Islamic State terrorists and other violent extremists from the Middle East and northern Africa.
Carter said he believed it was important to go to "the southern flank" because the violence, lawlessness and the refugee crisis are all having a tremendous impact across Europe.