The United States is coming under heavy criticism on Saturday after apparently launching a pre-dawn airstrike on a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that killed at least 19 people, including 12 of the charity’s local staff members. The rest of the dead were patients in the intensive care unit, including three children. The death toll is likely to rise, as at least 37 people were seriously injured in the bombing, 19 of whom are staff members, MSF said. At least five of the staff members are in critical condition. “There are many patients and staff who remain unaccounted for,” the international charity said in a statement. “The numbers may grow as a clearer picture develops of the aftermath of this horrific bombing.” When the bombing began, there were 105 patients and about 80 doctors and nurses inside the facility that has been overwhelmed with patients in recent days.
Although the U.S. military said the incident is still under investigation, it did acknowledge that forces launched an airstrike that “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” U.S. military jets have carried out numerous airstrikes in Kunduz over the past week after the Taliban captured the strategic northern city in less than 24 hours of fighting, reports Bloomberg. Afghan forces recaptured control of the city on Oct. 1. One local resident tells the Washington Post there have been up to 35 airstrikes in the area over the past five days.
There are differing accounts about whether there had been fighting around the hospital that could have led to the airstrike, notes the New York Times. Hospital staff say there was no fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters in the hospital. But a police spokesman contends Taliban fighters were opening fire from the hospital. “The hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked the Afghan security forces,” notes the Times.
In a shocking detail, Doctors Without Borders said the airstrikes “continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed by MSF that its hospital was struck.” The hospital’s location had also been reported to everyone before the bombing started. “MSF wishes to clarify that all parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location (GPS Coordinates) of the MSF facilities in Kunduz, including the hospital, guesthouse, office and an outreach stabilization unit in Chardara northwest of Kunduz,” the charity added.
The International Red Cross also condemned the bombing. “This is an appalling tragedy,” said Jean-Nicolas Marti, director of the Red Cross in Afghanistan. “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.” The U.S. Embassy in Kabul took to Facebook to express condolences.
This post has been updated with new information since it was originally published.