Charity Medecins Sans Frontieres says they phoned NATO and US officials as bombs hit Afghan hospital killing 19 people
Published 03/10/2015 | 15:11
Medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said frantic staff phoned military officials at NATO in Kabul and Washington as bombs rained on their hospital in the Afghan city on Kunduz for nearly an hour, the aid group said.
The death toll following the air strike has risen to 19 - 12 of whom were MSF staff. The remaining seven were patients in the Intensive Care Unit, three of whom were children.
Some 37 people were seriously wounded, including 19 staff. MSF have warned there are many other staff and patients unaccounted for at present.
The first bomb landed at 2:10 a.m. and MSF staff called NATO in officials in Kabul at 2:19 a.m. and military officials in Washington a few minutes later, and the bombing continued until 3:13 a.m., an MSF official said.
The Dublin office of MSF have issued a statement saying: "Médecins Sans Frontières condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific bombing of its hospital in Kunduz full of staff and patients.
"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 - hospital, guesthouse, office and an outreach stabilization unit in Chardara (to the north-west of Kunduz). As MSF does in all conflict contexts, these precise locations were communicated to all parties on multiple occasions over the past months, including most recently on 29 September.
"The bombing continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed. MSF urgently seeks clarity on exactly what took place and how this terrible event could have happened.
"It is with deep sadness that we confirm so far the death of nine MSF staff during the bombing last night of MSF’s hospital in Kunduz. Latest update is that 37 people were seriously wounded during the bombing, of whom 19 are MSF staff. Some of the most critically injured are being transferred for stabilisation to a hospital in Puli Khumri, 2 hours’ drive away. There are many patients and staff who remain unaccounted for. The numbers keep growing as we develop a clearer picture of the aftermath of this horrific bombing."
Up until several weeks ago, an Irish doctor was managing the hospital but he had returned home prior to last night's air strike.
There are no other Irish MSF staff in Kundunz at present, the charity's Dublin office confirmed.
“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,” says Bart Janssens, MSF Director of Operations. “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.”
Since fighting broke out on Monday, MSF has treated 394 wounded. When the aerial attack occurred this morning, MSF had 105 patients and their care-takers in the hospital and over 80 MSF international and national staff present.
MSF’s hospital is the only facility of its kind in the whole north-eastern region of Afghanistan, providing free life- and limb-saving trauma care. MSF doctors treat all people according to their medical needs and do not make distinctions based on a patient’s ethnicity, religious beliefs or political affiliation.
Read more here: Nine charity workers killed in Afghan hospital bombing
U.S. forces launched an air strike at 2.15 a.m. (2145 GMT), the spokesman, Col. Brian Tribus, said in a statement.
"The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility," he added. "This incident is under investigation."
At the aid group's bombed-out hospital, one wall of a building had collapsed, scattering fragments of glass and wooden door frames, and three rooms were ablaze, said Saad Mukhtar, director of public health in Kunduz.
"Thick black smoke could be seen rising from some of the rooms," Mukhtar said after a visit to the hospital. "The fighting is still going on, so we had to leave."
Fighting has raged around the northern provincial capital of Kunduz as government forces backed by American air power seek to drive out Taliban militants who seized the city six days ago in the biggest victory of their nearly 14-year insurgency.
The U.S. military unleashed twelve air strikes on the city this week, most on the city's outskirts. The overnight strike on the hospital was only the second in a central area, the military said.
Despite government claims to have taken control of the area, a bitter contest with the Taliban continues. Afghan security forces fought their way into Kunduz three days ago, but battles continue in many places, with Taliban hiding in people's homes.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said there were no militant fighters being treated at the hospital.
MSF said it had treated almost 400 patients in the 150-bed hospital since fighting broke out, most for gunshot wounds. So many patients have flooded in that the hospital had to put them in offices and on mattresses on the floor.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul said in a statement it "mourns for the individuals and families affected by the tragic incident".
The hospital was on the frontline in the fighting. On Friday, Taliban fighters hiding behind the walls of the hospital were firing at government forces, said Khodaidad, a Kunduz resident who lives near the hospital.
"I could hear sounds of heavy gunfire, explosions and airplanes throughout the night," said Khodaidad, who has only one name. "There were several huge explosions and it sounded like the roof was falling on me."
EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said he was shocked by the news of the bombing.
"I call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and ensure that health care facilities and humanitarian workers are protected," he said in a statement.
France has called for an investigation.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "deeply shocked" by the incident.
"This is an appalling tragedy," said Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of the ICRC in Afghanistan. "Such attacks undermine the capacity of humanitarian organisations to assist the Afghan people at a time when they most urgently need it."