MSF leaves U.S.-bombed Kun­duz hos­pi­tal

Hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis grow­ing in­creas­ingly dire in north­ern city tar­geted by Tal­iban

Toronto Star - - WORLD - LYNNE O’DON­NELL

KABUL— The in­ter­na­tional med­i­cal char­ity Doc­tors With­out Borders said on Sun­day it had with­drawn from the north­ern Afghan city of Kun­duz af­ter a deadly airstrike de­stroyed its hos­pi­tal and killed 22 peo­ple, as the U.S. and Afghan gov­ern­ments vowed to get to the bot­tom of the car­nage.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the city, which briefly fell to the Tal­iban last week be­fore the gov­ern­ment launched a coun­terof­fen­sive, has been grow­ing in­creas­ingly dire, with shops shut­tered be­cause of on­go­ing fight­ing and roads made im­pass­able by mines planted by in­sur­gents.

“All crit­i­cal pa­tients have been re­ferred to other health fa­cil­i­ties and no MSF staff are work­ing in our hos­pi­tal,” said Kate Stege­man, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for Doc­tors With­out Borders, us­ing the French acro­nym for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­tin­u­ing into the bomb­ing of the hos­pi­tal on Satur­day, which killed at least 22 peo­ple. The char­ity an­nounced Sun­day that three in­jured hos­pi­tal pa­tients had died, bring­ing the to­tal to 10 — in ad­di­tion to 12 dead hos­pi­tal staffers.

The cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the in­ci­dent re­main murky. The char­ity said in a state­ment Satur­day that “all in­di­ca­tions” pointed to the in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary coali­tion as re­spon­si­ble for the bomb­ing. Army Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for Amer­i­can forces in Afghanistan, said a U.S. airstrike “in the Kun­duz vicin­ity” around 2:15 a.m. Satur­day morn­ing “may have re­sulted in col­lat­eral dam­age to a nearby med­i­cal fa­cil­ity.”

Afghan of­fi­cials said he­li­copter gun­ships re­turned fire from Tal­iban fight­ers who were hid­ing in the hos­pi­tal, and The As­so­ci­ated Press video footage of the burned out com­pound in the east of Kun­duz city shows au­to­matic weapons, in­clud­ing ri­fles and at least one ma­chine-gun, on win­dowsills. But Stege­man said there were no in­sur­gents in the fa­cil­ity at the time of the bomb­ing.

Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani said a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­der­way with U.S. Forces. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said he ex­pected a full ac­count­ing of the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the bomb­ing.

The Tal­iban’s brief seizure of Kun­duz marked the in­sur­gent group’s big­gest foray into a ma­jor ur­ban area since the 2001 U.S.-led in­va­sion end- ed their rule.

Afghan forces have been strug­gling to com­bat the Tal­iban since the U.S. and NATO shifted to a sup­port and train­ing role at the end of last year, of­fi­cially end­ing their com­bat mis­sion in the war-torn coun­try.

Act­ing pro­vin­cial Gov. Hamidul­lah Dan­ishi said most of the in­sur­gents had fled the city and that those still stand­ing their ground ap­peared to be non-Afghans who have been boost­ing Tal­iban forces in the north of the coun­try for months. Of­fi­cials have said that many of them are mem­bers of the Is­lamic Move­ment of Uzbek­istan. Dan­ishi said that 480 Tal­iban fight­ers had been killed as of Fri­day, and around 300 wounded. He put ca­su­al­ties among Afghan se­cu­rity forces at be­tween 30 and 35 killed or wounded.

Mean­while thou­sands of civil­ian res­i­dents re­main trapped in­side the city. Mil­i­tants blocked and mined roads as soon as they en­tered Kun­duz to pre­vent peo­ple from leav­ing and to thwart a gov­ern­ment as­sault.

MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES/THE NEW YORK TIMES

A Doc­tors With­out Borders hos­pi­tal was dam­aged in an airstrike Sun­day.

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