Med­i­cal char­ity MSF leaves Kun­duz


Med­i­cal char­ity Doc­tors With­out Borders said Sun­day it has with­drawn staff from the em­bat­tled Afghan city of Kun­duz, a day af­ter an ap­par­ent U.S. bomb­ing raid on its hos­pi­tal which the U.N. said could amount to a war crime.

Doc­tors With­out Borders (MSF) said 19 peo­ple were killed, some of whom burned to death in their beds as the bom­bard­ment con­tin­ued for more than an hour, even af­ter U.S. and Afghan author­i­ties were in­formed the hos­pi­tal had been hit. It is the only med­i­cal fa­cil­ity in the whole north­east­ern re­gion of Afghanistan that can deal with ma­jor war in­juries. Its clo­sure, even tem­po­rar­ily, could have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on lo­cal civil­ians.

“The MSF hos­pi­tal is not func­tional any­more. All crit­i­cal pa­tients have been re­ferred to other health fa­cil­i­ties and no MSF staff are work­ing in our hos­pi­tal,” Kate Stege­man, a spokes­woman for the char­ity, told AFP. “I can’t con­firm at this stage whether our Kun­duz trauma cen­ter will re­open or not.”

The air raid came five days af­ter Tal­iban fight­ers seized con­trol of the strate­gic north­ern city of Kun­duz, in their most spec­tac­u­lar vic­tory since be­ing top­pled from power by a U.S.-led coali­tion in 2001. The med­i­cal char­ity con­demned the bomb­ings as “ab­hor­rent and a grave vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law,” de­mand­ing an­swers from U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

It said Afghan and coali­tion troops were fully aware of the ex­act lo­ca­tion of the hos­pi­tal, hav­ing been given GPS co-or­di­nates of a fa­cil­ity which had been pro­vid­ing care for four years. It added that de­spite fran­tic calls to mil­i­tary of­fi­cials in Kabul and Washington, the main build­ing hous­ing the in­ten­sive care unit and emer­gency rooms was “re­peat­edly, very pre­cisely” hit al­most ev­ery 15 min­utes for more than an hour.

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 bombs hit and then we heard the plane cir­cle round,” said He­man Na­garath­nam, MSF’s head of pro­grams in north­ern Afghanistan. “There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This hap­pened again and again. When I made it out from the of­fice, the main hos­pi­tal build­ing was en­gulfed in flames. “Those peo­ple that could had moved quickly to the build­ing’s two bunkers to seek safety. But pa­tients who were un­able to es­cape burned to death as they lay in their beds.”

Twelve staff mem­bers and at least seven pa­tients, among them three chil­dren, were killed, while 37 peo­ple were in­jured.

‘Deep­est Con­do­lences’

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama of­fered his “deep­est con­do­lences” for what he called a “tragic in­ci­dent.”

“The Depart­ment of De­fense has launched a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and we will await the re­sults of that in­quiry be­fore mak­ing a de­fin­i­tive judg­ment as to the cir­cum­stances of this tragedy,” Obama said.

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