Obama apologizes to aid group for US attack on Afghan clinic

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama apologized to Doctors Without Borders on Wednesday for the American air attack that killed at least 22 people at a medical clinic in Afghanistan, and said the U.S. would examine military procedures to look for better ways to prevent such incidents.

Obama's phone call to the group's international president, Joanne Liu, came just a day after the White House had stopped short of an apology, waiting to learn more while acknowledging that the attack was a U.S. mistake. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama offered condolences to the group's staff and pledged a "transparent, thorough and objective accounting of the facts."

See images from the devastating bombing:

20 PHOTOS
U.S. airstrike on Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan
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Obama apologizes to aid group for US attack on Afghan clinic
FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2015, file photo, an employee of Doctors Without Borders stands inside the charred remains of their hospital after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Russian airstrikes have reportedly hit at least a half dozen medical facilities in Syria, according to activists. In Yemen, an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. Still, apart from rights groups condemnations, thereÂs been little international outcry, in contrast to a U.S. strike on a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 30 people. (Najim Rahim via AP, File)
The Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen in flames, after explosions in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Doctors Without Borders announced that the death toll from the bombing of the group's Kunduz hospital compound has risen to at least 16, including 3 children and that tens are missing after the explosions that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. In a statement, the international charity said the "sustained bombing" took place at 2:10 a.m. (21:40 GMT). Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz on Monday. (Médecins Sans Frontières via AP)
The Doctors Without Borders trauma center is seen in flames, after an explosion near their hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz . Doctors Without Borders announced that the death toll from the bombing of the group's Kunduz hospital compound has risen to at least 16, including 3 children and that tens are missing after the explosions that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. In a statement, the international charity said the "sustained bombing" took place at 2:10 a.m. (2140 GMT). Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz on Monday. (Médecins Sans Frontières via AP)
The Doctors Without Borders trauma center is seen in flames, after an explosion near their hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz . Doctors Without Borders announced that the death toll from the bombing of the group's Kunduz hospital compound has risen to at least 16, including 3 children and that tens are missing after the explosions that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. In a statement, the international charity said the "sustained bombing" took place at 2:10 a.m. (2140 GMT). Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz on Monday. (Médecins Sans Frontières via AP)
In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 photo, the charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after being hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Christopher Stokes, general director of Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by its French abbreviation MSF, whose hospital in northern Afghanistan was destroyed in a U.S. airstrike, says the Âextensive, quite precise destruction of the bombing raid casts doubt on American military assertions that it was a mistake. (Najim Rahim via AP)
In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 photo, the charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after being hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The head of Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by its French abbreviation MSF whose hospital in northern Afghanistan was destroyed in a U.S. airstrike says the Âextensive, quite precise destruction of the bombing raid casts doubt on American military assertions that it was a mistake. (Najim Rahim via AP)
Afghan employees of a Doctors Without Borders hospital move debris of its damaged gate in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. Taliban fighters took control of the key northern city late last month, leading to a protracted battle with Afghan forces supported by U.S. airstrikes. During the fighting, a U.S. air attack hit the hospital, killing at least 12 Doctors Without Borders staff and 10 patients. (AP Photo/Najim Rahim)
FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2015 file photo, the charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The Army Green Berets who called in the deadly strike on the Doctors without Borders trauma center in Afghanistan were aware it was a functioning hospital but believed it was under Taliban control, raising questions about whether the air strike violated international law.. (Najim Rahim via AP)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 photo, the charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after being hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The attack, which killed a number of hospital staff and patients, was intended to back up Afghan forces fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran the strategic city earlier in the month. (Najim Rahim via AP)
In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 photo, an employee of the Doctors Without Borders walks inside the charred remains of their hospital after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Christopher Stokes, general director of Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by its French abbreviation MSF, whose hospital in northern Afghanistan was destroyed in a U.S. airstrike, says the Âextensive, quite precise destruction of the bombing raid casts doubt on American military assertions that it was a mistake. (Najim Rahim via AP)
In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 photo, Christopher Stokes, the general director of the medical charity, Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by its French abbreviation MSF, stands near the charred remains of the organizations' hospital, after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Stokes says the Âextensive, quite precise destruction of the bombing raid casts doubt on American military assertions that it was a mistake. (Najim Rahim via AP)
In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 photo, the charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after being hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The head of Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by its French abbreviation MSF, whose hospital in northern Afghanistan was destroyed in a U.S. airstrike says the extensive, quite precise destruction of the bombing raid casts doubt on American military assertions that it was a mistake. (Najim Rahim via AP)
FILE -In this Oct. 14, 2015 file photo, the charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after being hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The Army Green Berets who called in the deadly strike on the Doctors without Borders trauma center in Afghanistan were aware it was a functioning hospital but believed it was under Taliban control, raising questions about whether the air strike violated international law. (Najim Rahim via AP)
FILE -- In this Oct. 15, 2015 file photo, Christopher Stokes, the general director of medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by its French abbreviation MSF, stands at the gate of the organization's hospital, after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Russian airstrikes have reportedly hit at least a half dozen medical facilities in Syria, according to activists. In Yemen, an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. Still, apart from rights groups condemnations, theres been little international outcry, in contrast to a U.S. strike on a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 30 people. (Najim Rahim via AP, File)
Injured Doctors Without Borders staff are seen after an explosion near their hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Doctors Without Borders announced that the death toll from the bombing of the group's Kunduz hospital compound has risen to at least 16, including 3 children and that tens are missing after the explosions that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. In a statement, the international charity said the "sustained bombing" took place at 2:10 a.m. (2140 GMT). Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz on Monday. (Médecins Sans Frontières via AP)
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Resolute Support Mission Commander Gen. John Campbell pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Situation in Afghanistan. U.S. forces attacked a hospital in northern Afghanistan last weekend, killing at least 22 people, despite "rigorous" U.S. military procedures designed to avoid such mistakes, the top commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The burnt Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after an explosion in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Doctors Without Borders announced that the death toll from the bombing of the group's Kunduz hospital compound has risen to at least 16, including 3 children and that tens are missing after the explosions that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. In a statement, the international charity said the "sustained bombing" took place at 2:10 a.m. (21:40 GMT). Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz on Monday. (Médecins Sans Frontières via AP)
Afghan security forces take a wounded civilian man to the hospital after Taliban fighter's attack, in Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Three staff from Doctors Without Borders were killed and 30 were missing after an explosion near their hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. (AP Photo/Dehsabzi)
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Resolute Support Mission Commander Gen. John Campbell testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Situation in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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"When the United States makes a mistake, we own up to it, we apologize where appropriate, and we are honest about what transpired," Earnest said. He described the call as a "heartfelt apology."

Emerging details about the erroneous strike have only fueled growing condemnation by Doctors Without Borders and other aid groups in the four days since the clinic in the northern city of Kunduz came under fire, killing civilian workers and patients. After initial confusion, officials determined the U.S. had carried out the strike, an admission that complicates delicate U.S. efforts in Afghanistan as Obama weighs how many troops to leave there.

Obama told Doctors Without Borders that the U.S. would review the attack to determine whether changes to U.S. military procedures could reduce the chances of a similar incident. Obama also spoke to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to convey condolences and praise Afghan forces for securing Kunduz, the White House said. Taliban fighters had seized control of Kunduz for three days last week.

Investigations by the U.S., NATO and the Afghan government are underway, but Doctors Without Borders has called them insufficient and demanded an independent fact-finding mission. Without addressing that demand, the White House offered assurances that the Pentagon would dutifully carry out its internal probe.

Doctors Without Borders has also said the strike may have been a war crime and has described it as an attack on the Geneva Conventions governing humanitarian treatment during war. But the White House urged patience while the Pentagon works to establish what transpired.

Asked whether the apology signified U.S. culpability for loss of life, Earnest said individuals would be held accountable if necessary.

U.S. officials have declined to discuss most circumstances of the blunder, and it's not yet clear whether the strike exceeded the rules applying to American forces operating in Afghanistan. But the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, has said Afghan forces fighting to retake Kunduz from the Taliban had requested U.S. air power, and that a U.S. special operations unit in the "close vicinity" was communicating with the crew of the heavily armed AC-130 gunship that pummeled the hospital.

Click through to see President Obama's portraits through the years:

8 PHOTOS
Barack Obama portraits through the years
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Obama apologizes to aid group for US attack on Afghan clinic

2009

In this photo provided by the Obama Transition Office, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama poses for an official portrait on January 13, 2009 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Pete Souza/Obama Transition Office via Getty Images)

2010

US President Barack Obama speaks in the Grand Foyer following a meeting with senior intelligence officials and cabinet members January 5, 2010 at the White House in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

2011

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on November 7, 2011 on tax credits included in the American Jobs Act and new executive actions that will help get veterans back to work.

(Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

2012

In this handout from the White House, official portrait of U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on December 6, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

2013

US President Barack Obama announces his nominee for the Federal Housing Finance Authority, North Carolina Democrat Representative Mel Watt, and his nominee for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), venture capitalist Tom Wheeler, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 1, 2013.

(Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

2014

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a St. Patrick's Day reception for Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland and his wife Fionnuala O'Kelly in the East Room of the White House March 14, 2014 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)

2015

US President Barack Obama speaks at an event marking the 5th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act in Washington, DC, March 25, 2015.

(Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

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