US air strike on Afghan hospital kills 19 people

US air strike aimed at hitting Taliban destroys Afghan hospital, killing 19

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Afghan guards stand at the gate of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, October 3, 2015


Chief officer of the US-led forces in Afghanistan have apologized to the Afghan president following the death of at least 19 people killed by a bomb dropped at a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, the presidency said. 

Army General John Campbell gave details to the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and apologized, a report from the presidency.

No immediate confirmation from the international coalition confirm that Campbell phoned the president.

A hospital belonging to medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the Afghan city of Kunduz was heavily damaged and three of its staff members have been confirmed dead after US air strikes were carried out in the area overnight. 

The US military admitted it “might be responsible” for the hospital damage, but said the strikes were directed and meant for “individuals threatening the force.”

“US forces conducted an air strike in Kunduz city at 2:15am [local], 3 October, against individuals threatening the force," said Colonel Brian Tribus, spokesman for international forces in Afghanistan. 

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

“We are deeply shocked by the attack, the killing of our staff and patients and the heavy toll it has inflicted on healthcare in Kunduz,” Bart Janssens, director of operations at Doctors Without Borders, said.

US expresses condolences to Doctors without Borders

Following Colonel Tribus' statement, and shortly after the attack, the US embassy in Afghanistan released a statement regarding the incident saying, “The US embassy mourns for the individuals and families affected by the tragic incident at the Doctors without Borders hospital.”

The statement continued to praise the work of MSF in Afghanistan and reiterated that the US remains “concerned about the ongoing violence in Kunduz.”

According to MSF, air strikes in the area of the hospital continued for a full 30 minutes after the first reports that they were hitting close to the hospital. The organisation also said that it provided the hospital's specific location in Kunduz with GPS coordinates to coalition forces, meaning both Kabul and Washington were fully aware of where the Kunduz hospital is located.

The International Red Cross in the UK and Ireland denounced the attack on the Kunduz hospital. Jean-Nicolas Marti, Head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan, said, "This is 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."

"Neutral and impartial humanitarian assistance is crucial today in Afghanistan," Marti added.

It has been reported that 105 patients were present inside the hospital at the time of the attack as well as over 80 MSF international and national staff and care takers. Doctors without borders has confirmed that 30 MSF staff are still missing and unaccounted for.

“We do not yet have the final casualty figures, but our medical team are providing first aid and treating the injured patients and MSF personnel and accounting for the deceased. We urge all parties to respect the safety of health facilities and staff,” an MSF statement said

MSF has been active in Afghanistan since 1980, and their hospital in Kunduz is the only facility in the country’s northeast.

The air strikes also appear to have followed intense fighting around the city, an anonymous MSF staff member told the to the reporters. 

“I was inside my office. Around 2am, the plane started bombing the main building of MSF. It lasted one-and-a-half hours. After 3.30am, I came out from my office and saw all of the hospital was on fire,” the staff member said.

“We couldn’t save our doctors, our nurses, our cleaners, our friends. They burned inside the hospital. We couldn’t save our brothers and friends,” he added.

Kunduz's recent fall to the Taliban

The war torn city was recently captured by Taliban militants on Monday. The takeover is considered one of the biggest victories for the militants in their nearly 14-year struggle to regain control of Afghanistan, and a big blow to the Afghan government.

MSF had treated 394 wounded people in Kunduz since the fierce fighting started in the city on Monday.

Afghan interior ministry spokesperson claimed Taliban fighters were attacking Afghan security forces from an area near the hospital.

"According to our information, the Taliban were hiding in the hospital building and the area around it while attacking our forces," Sediq Sediqqi said.

"We are assessing and evaluating the collateral damage to the medical facility. However, in any case, the safety of the civilians comes first," the spokeman added.

Kunduz is Afghanistan’s northern provincial capital. Fighting between Afghan troops and Taliban militants has raged over the last few days, especially after government forces recaptured most of the city.

An injured civilian is seen lying on the hood of a military vehicle as Afghan security forces prepare to transport him to safety after a battle with  with the Taliban in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, October 3, 2015.

The Afghan government claimed only on Thursday that its forces had regained control of Kunduz. Since then fighting has raged in the city. Afghan troops are backed by international special forces as well as US air strikes.

Both warring parties currently claim to be in control of the city.

The Taliban released a statement after the attack in which it accused "barbaric American forces" of carrying out Saturday's strike on purpose "killing and wounding tens of doctors, nurses and patients."

A US coalition air strike previously mistakenly killed 10 Afghan soldiers last July in Helmand Province. Coalition officials initially denied the incident but later claimed responsibility and announced the matter was under investigation.

TRTWorld and agencies