Doctors Without Borders withdraws from Afghanistan’s Kunduz

Doctors Without Borders pulls out of northern Afghan city of Kunduz following death of 19 people in US airstrikes aimed at hospital

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

MSF hospital following airstrikes.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have announced their departure from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz after 12 staff members and seven patients lost their lives and another 37 people were wounded in a US-led coalition air strike on the hospital.

The hospital, belonging to the medical aid group, was hit several times during "sustained bombing" and is reported to be no longer functional, causing the remaining staff to treat the wounded in two other health facilities in the city, Kate Stegeman, a spokesperson for the organization, said on Sunday.

US President Barack Obama expressed his "deepest condolences" for those who fell victim to the attacks and stated that the Pentagon has undergone a full investigation concerning the matter.

MSF executive director Jason Cone sent out a tweet on Sunday directed at the US President and the Department of Defense.

UN human rights chief officer Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said that the attacks were "utterly tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal."  

"The seriousness of the incident is underlined by the fact that, if established as deliberate in a court of law, an air strike on a hospital may amount to a war crime," Hussein added.

US military said it operated an air strike "in the vicinity" of the hospital, as it aimed at targeting Taliban militant groups.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter also extended his condolences while acknowledging that US forces supporting their Afghan counterparts "were operating nearby".

Afghan interior ministry reported that militants associated with Taliban were firing on Afghan forces at the time of the attack after they had taken position within the hospital compound, using the building "as a human shield".

“Afghan security forces launched a clearing operation on hospital last night where tens of militants had positioned,” said ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

He added that Afghan forces had transferred in advance an estimate of 70 MSF staff members to a safe zone during the start of the attacks.

MSF denies Taliban’s presence in hospital

However, MSF members have denied any statements claiming that Taliban fighters were firing from its hospital at Afghan forces.

"The gates of the hospital compound were closed all night so no one that is not staff, a patient or a caretaker was inside the hospital when the bombing happened," MSF reported on Sunday.

Following the air strike, patients were burned alive in the crowded hospital, and among the dead were three children who were being treated, according to witnesses.

An official of the medical aid group said that MSF staff had telephoned military officials at NATO in both Kabul and Washington immediately following the air raids, but the bombs continued to hit for almost an hour.

The streets are filled with corpses lying around and people are too afraid to leave their homes, said one resident, Gulboddin.

"You can hear the sound of gunfire all over the city," said Gulboddin, who has only one name. "Some of the bodies are decomposing."

Many hospitals are quickly running out of medicine which is causing them to struggle with their treatments of the growing numbers of patients, public health official Sayed Mukhtar, reported.

"There is no electricity and hospital laboratories are not working," he added. "This city is no longer for living."

Taliban militants were still holding out against Afghan troops in Kunduz, even though Afghan government, backed by international special forces as well as US air strikes, claimed on Thursday that its forces had regained control of Kunduz.


TRTWorld and agencies