16 killed in ap­par­ent US strike on hos­pi­tal

Doc­tors With­out Borders says 16 staff killed in Afghan strike

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A sus­pected U.S. airstrike on a hos­pi­tal in the Afghan city of Kun­duz Satur­day killed 16 Doc­tors With­out Borders staff, in a bom­bard­ment the char­ity said con­tin­ued for more than 30 min­utes af­ter Washington was in­formed.

Dozens more were se­ri­ously wounded at the fa­cil­ity, a key med­i­cal life­line that has been run­ning “be­yond ca­pac­ity” dur­ing fight­ing that saw the Tal­iban seize con­trol of the north­ern pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal for sev­eral days.

The strike early Satur­day left the build­ing en­gulfed in flames, with photos posted by Doc­tors With­out Borders show­ing their staff shocked and dazed.

“At 2: 10 a. m. ( 2040 GMT) lo­cal time ... the MSF trauma cen­tre in Kun­duz was hit sev­eral times dur­ing sus­tained bomb­ing and was very badly dam­aged,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion, known by its French ini­tials, said.

It said the bomb­ing con­tin­ued for more than 30 min­utes af­ter Amer­i­can and Afghan mil­i­tary of­fi­cials were first alerted they were be­ing hit.

“All par­ties to the con­flict, in­clud­ing in Kabul and Washington, were clearly in­formed of the pre­cise lo­ca­tion (GPS co­or­di­nates) of the MSF fa­cil­i­ties,” the state­ment added.

MSF spokes­woman Kate Stege­man told AFP 16 peo­ple were killed in the bom­bard­ment, among them three chil­dren, and 37 were wounded.

The Afghan de­fense min­istry ex­pressed sad­ness but in a state­ment said “a group of ter­ror­ists armed with light and heavy weapon ... were us­ing the hos­pi­tal build­ing as a po­si­tion to tar­get Afghan forces and civil­ians”.

NATO con­ceded U. S. forces may have been be­hind the strike but has not so far com­mented on the spe­cific claims of MSF, which has long treated the war-wounded from all sides of the con­flict.

“U.S. forces con­ducted an airstrike in Kun­duz city at 2:15 a.m. (lo­cal time) ... against in­di­vid­u­als threat­en­ing the force,” a NATO state­ment said.

“The strike may have re­sulted in col­lat­eral dam­age to a nearby med­i­cal fa­cil­ity. This in­ci­dent is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said 10 to 15 “ter­ror­ists” had been hid­ing in the hos­pi­tal at the time of the strike.

“All of the ter­ror­ists were killed but we also lost doc­tors,” he told a press con­fer­ence. He said 80 staff at the hos­pi­tal, in­clud­ing 15 for­eign­ers, had been taken to safety.

Sediqqi said Afghan forces were still sweep­ing the city for mil­i­tants, con­duct­ing “me­ter to me­ter, house to house oper­a­tions” that would con­tinue un­til “all those bad el­e­ments” had been elim­i­nated.

‘Shocked, emo­tional, in tears’

Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­hul­lah Mu­jahid is­sued a state­ment say­ing there were no Tal­iban fight­ers in the hos­pi­tal at the time of the bomb­ing. It ac­cused Afghanistan’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vice of mis­di­rect­ing the airstrike to pur­pose­fully hit the hos­pi­tal.

The in­ci­dent could re­new con­cerns about civil­ian ca­su­al­ties caused by U.S. airstrikes, a deeply con­tentious is­sue in the 14-year cam­paign against Tal­iban in­sur­gents.

Satur­day’s bomb­ing came af­ter Tal­iban in­sur­gents over­ran the north­ern Afghan city on Mon­day. It was the first ma­jor city to be cap­tured by mil­i­tants since 2001.

MSF said some 105 pa­tients and their care­givers, as well as more than 80 in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal MSF staff, were in the hos­pi­tal at the time of the bomb­ing.

The black­ened build­ing was filled with the smell of burn­ing flesh and some bod­ies were charred be­yond recog­ni­tion, said Qi­a­mudeen, a 31-year-old shop­keeper whose neigh­bor was killed in the strike.

“I was shocked, emo­tional and in tears when I reached the hos­pi­tal,” Qi­a­mudeen, who goes by one name, told AFP.

Another res­i­dent said he was anx­iously try­ing to con­tact six friends, all doc­tors and nurses at MSF.

“I don’t have any news from them and they may have been killed,” he told AFP.

He said many peo­ple were too afraid to leave their homes to check on wounded rel­a­tives be­cause of spo­radic fire­fights be­tween troops and Tal­iban mil­i­tants.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment in­sists the city is firmly in their con­trol.

‘Ap­palling tragedy’

The MSF trauma cen­ter in Kun­duz is the only med­i­cal fa­cil­ity in the whole north­east­ern re­gion of Afghanistan that can deal with ma­jor in­juries.

“We are deeply shocked by the at­tack, the killing of our staff ... and the heavy toll it has in­flicted on health care in Kun­duz,” MSF di­rec­tor of oper­a­tions Bart Janssens said.

“We urge all par­ties to re­spect the safety of health fa­cil­i­ties and staff.”

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional con­demned the “de­plorable loss of life,” call­ing for an ur­gent and im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross said the strike was “an ap­palling tragedy.”

“Such at­tacks against health work­ers and fa­cil­i­ties un­der­mine the ca­pac­ity of hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions to as­sist the Afghan peo­ple at a time when they most ur­gently need it.”

Kun­duz is fac­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, with thou­sands of civil­ians caught in the cross­fire be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and in­sur­gents. At least 60 peo­ple are known to have died and 400 wounded in re­cent fight­ing.

The Tal­iban’s of­fen­sive in Kun­duz, their big­gest tac­ti­cal suc­cess since 2001, marks a ma­jor blow for Afghanistan’s Western-trained forces.

In a state­ment, the Tal­iban ac­cused “bar­baric Amer­i­can forces” of de­lib­er­ately car­ry­ing out Satur­day’s strike, which “killed and wounded tens of doc­tors, nurses and pa­tients”.

AFP

In this un­dated pho­to­graph re­leased by Doc­tors With­out Borders (MSF) on Satur­day, Oct. 3, Afghan MSF med­i­cal per­son­nel treat civil­ians in­jured fol­low­ing an of­fen­sive against Tal­iban mil­i­tants by Afghan and coali­tion forces at the MSF hos­pi­tal in Kun­duz, Afghanistan.

POLI­CIA COLOM­BIANA/AFP

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