A hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, was apparently “collateral damage” in a US airstrike on the Taliban in Afghanistan early this morning (Oct. 3). At least nine MSF staff members were killed, among other not-yet-totaled casualties including patients and patients’ family members.
The US has been conducting airstrikes in Kunduz, Afghanistan, since the Taliban wrested control of the city from Afghan forces last week.
A US military spokesman confirmed to Reuters that the US launched an airstrike at 2:15 am local time (5:45 pm ET), and that “the strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”
MSF volunteers might consider that an understatement. “MSF condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific bombing of its hospital in Kunduz full of staff and patients,” a statement on the organization’s website reads. In addition, says MSF:
All parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location (GPS Coordinates) of the MSF facilities—hospital, guest-house, 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 extent of activity by Taliban forces near the hospital site is disputed, according to the New York Times:
Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters in the hospital.
But a Kunduz police spokesman, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, insisted that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position.
The hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked the Afghan security forces.
Nearly 200 people—105 patients and 80 staff members—were inside the hospital at the time of the bombing. MSF says it contacted military officials as soon as the bombing began, but that the bombing continued for at least 30 minutes after the calls were made. The military spokesman quoted above, Col. Brian Tribus, said the incident is “under investigation.”
A patient being treated at the MSF hospital in Kunduz in May 2015.
This was the only hospital operating in the northeast region of Afghanistan. Since fighting between government forces and the Taliban broke out on Sept. 28, MSF had treated 394 patients there.