Saturday 18 November 2017

We have no faith in US probe on Kunduz 'war crime': MSF

An arrested Taliban fighter lies in a courtyard of Kunduz as Afghan forces and NATO allies claim to have wrestled back control of the city
An arrested Taliban fighter lies in a courtyard of Kunduz as Afghan forces and NATO allies claim to have wrestled back control of the city

Lynne O'Donnell

Medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres says it has no faith in a US probe into the air strike that hit an Afghan hospital, killing 22 people.

MSF called instead for an independent investigation into the destruction of the hospital, in an attack the charity blames on US-led NATO forces during fighting in the northern city of Kunduz.

"Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body," MSF general director Christopher Stokes said.

"Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient," he added.

MSF also announced it had withdrawn its staff from Kunduz in protest at the deadly air strike.

The humanitarian crisis in the city, which briefly fell to the Taliban last week before the government launched a counter-offensive, has been growing increasingly dire, with shops shuttered because of ongoing fighting and roads made impassable by mines planted by insurgents.

"All critical patients have been referred to other health facilities and no MSF staff are working in our hospital," said Kate Stegeman, the MSF communications manager.

"Some of our medical staff have gone to work in two hospitals where some of the wounded have been taken," she added.

The charity said yesterday that three injured hospital patients had died, bringing the total to 10 in addition to 12 dead hospital staffers.

The circumstances surrounding the incident remain murky. The charity said in a statement on Saturday that "all indications" pointed to the international military coalition as responsible for the bombing, and Army Col Brian Tribus, a spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan, said a US airstrike "in the Kunduz vicinity" around 2.15am on Saturday morning "may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility".

Afghan officials said helicopter gunships returned fire from Taliban fighters who were hiding in the hospital, and video footage of the burned-out compound in the east of Kunduz city shows automatic weapons on windowsills.

But Ms Stegeman said there were no insurgents in the facility at the time of the bombing.

President Ashraf Ghani said a joint investigation was under way with US Forces, and US President Barack Obama said he expected a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the bombing.

The Taliban seized Kunduz last Monday but have since withdrawn from much of the city after a government counter-attack. Sporadic battles continue as troops attempt to clear remaining pockets of militants.

The Taliban's brief seizure of Kunduz marked the insurgent group's biggest foray into a major urban area since the 2001 US-led invasion ended their rule.

Afghan forces have been struggling to combat the Taliban since the US and Nato shifted to a support and training role at the end of last year, officially ending their combat mission in the war-torn country.

Saad Mukhar, the Kunduz provincial public health director, estimates that more than 70 people have been killed and more than 500 wounded in the city since the fighting began.

"If this situation continues, we will not be able to help our patients because right now we are facing a serious, drastic shortage of medicine," he said.

Irish Independent

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