As many as nine international charity workers have been killed in Afghanistan after US forces appeared to have mistakenly bombed a hospital in the country’s north - despite having been informed of the facility's location only days before.
International charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said 16 people, including nine staff and seven patients, three of whom were children, had been killed. 37 people were injured in the attack after “sustained bombing” on the facility in the northern city of Kunduz.
Guilhem Molinie, MSF's representative for Afghanistan, told the Guardian in the days prior to the strike the medical organisation had circulated an email to Nato and US staff detailing their GPS coordinates.
Furthermore, a statement from MSF claims the bombing "continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed."
The US army confirmed it had conducted an air strike on the city at 2.15am. A spokesperson admitted the strike “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility”.
US Army spokesperson Colonel Brian Tribus said the incident was "under investigation," with the head of US operations in Afghanistan General John Campbell later issuing an apology to president Ashraf Ghani.
Afghanistan's Interior minister Sediq Sediqqi said on Saturday the hospital was reportedly hiding 10 to 15 "terrorists" at the time of the strike. "All of the terrorists were killed but we also lost doctors," he told a press conference.
MSF operates a strict policy of non-discrimination. "We treat everyone, regardless of their ethnicity or political affiliations and as long as they leave their weapons at the door," reads a blog post by Dr Masood Nasim, head of the Kunduz medical team, published on Thursday.
Dawood Khan, who lives in Kunduz, heard the bomb and rushed to the hospital. “The operating theatre was on fire, people were terrified, running everywhere," he said.
An MSF staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed the bombing lasting for over an hour and a half. “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,” they told the Guardian.
Kunduz has seen intense fighting over the past week as the Taliban took the city – the first major urban centre to fall to the force in 14 years – with Afghan and Nato forces besieging the city on Thursday.
The hospital is the only trauma facility operating in northern Afghanistan. At the time of the attack it had 105 patients, with 394 treated in the past week. 80 staff were present during the strike, which destroyed the emergency room and operation theatre.
“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, MSF Director of Operations, said.
"We do not yet have the final casualty figures, but our medical teams are providing first aid and treating the injured patients and MSF personnel".
On Saturday morning the US embassy in Kabul said they mourned the loss of life in the "tragic incident". In a statement they added: "We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Kunduz and the difficult humanitarian situation faced by its residents."
The incident has been heavily criticised by the international community, with Human Rights Watch (HRW), the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) all condemned the strike.
In a statement, HRW said they had “grave concerns about whether US forces took sufficient precautions to identify and avoid striking the facility". They called for an independent investigation into the "shocking" events.
Additional reporting by Press AssociationReuse content