KABUL: A US air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz on Saturday left nine Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff dead, in a bombardment the charity said continued for more than 30 minutes after Washington was informed.
Dozens of others were seriously wounded at the facility, a key medical lifeline that has been running “beyond capacity” during recent fighting that saw the Taliban seize control of the northern provincial capital of Kunduz for several days.
The strike early Saturday left the building engulfed in flames, with photos posted on Twitter by Doctors Without Borders showing shocked and dazed staff in the aftermath of the bombing.
“At 2:10 am, the MSF trauma centre in Kunduz was hit several times during sustained bombing and was very badly damaged,” the organisation, known by its French initials, said in a statement.
“It is with deep sadness that we confirm so far the death of nine MSF staff during the bombing, 37 people were seriously wounded. There are many patients and staff who remain unaccounted for.”
It said the bombing continued for more than 30 minutes after American and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed.
“All parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location (GPS coordinates) of the MSF facilities,” the statement added.
The Afghan defence ministry expressed sadness over the incident but in a statement claimed that “a group of terrorists armed with light and heavy weapons were using the hospital building as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians.”
Nato conceded that US forces may have been behind the strike but has not so far commented on MSF’s specific claims.
“US forces conducted an air strike in Kunduz city at 2:15 am against individuals threatening the force,” a Nato statement said.
“The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation.”
Civilian and military casualties caused by Nato forces have been one of the most contentious issues in the 14-year campaign against Taliban insurgents, provoking harsh public and government criticism.
Saturday’s bombing came after Taliban insurgents overran the northern Afghan city on Monday. It was the first major city to be captured by militants since 2001.