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As many as 20 people killed in alleged US airstrike, including MSF workers

The charity says Washington was fully appraised of the hospital’s location in advance of the strike.

Updated 16.15 

THE DEATH TOLL following an air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz is continuing to rise. 

In a statement this afternoon Medécins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) has said that at least 16 people, including 9 MSF staff and seven patients from the intensive care unit (three of which were children), had been killed in the strike.

The Guardian is reporting an MSF source as saying that as many as 20 people have been killed in the bombardment.

NATO has conceded that US forces may have been behind the bombing.

The MSF facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running “beyond capacity” during recent fighting that saw the Taliban seize control of the provincial capital for several days.

The strike left the building engulfed in flames, with photos posted by MSF on Twitter showing shocked and dazed staff in the aftermath of the bombing.

“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,” the charity said in a statement.

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.
MSF condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific bombing of its hospital in Kunduz full of staff and patients.

MSF say that all parties to the conflict were fully appraised of where the hospital was located, with the charity delivering the GPS co-ordinates of the facility to both sides as is their standard practice.

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.

Heavy fighting

Kunduz has seen heavy fighting since Taliban insurgents stormed the provincial capital on Monday – the first major city to be captured by militants since 2001.

MSF said some 105 patients and their caregivers and more than 80 international and local MSF staff were in the hospital at the time of the bombing.

The charity had stated yesterday that it was treating 59 children at the facility.

NATO said US forces may have been behind the strike.

“US forces conducted an air strike in Kunduz city at 2:15 am (local time)… 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.

A local resident said he was desperately trying to contact six of his friends, all doctors and nurses at MSF, but their cellphones were unreachable.

“I don’t have any news from them and they may have been killed,” he told AFP.

He said many residents with wounded relatives at the facility were too afraid to step out of their homes to check on them amid erratic firefights between troops and Taliban snipers lurking in the city.

Deeply shocked

The MSF trauma centre in Kunduz is the only medical facility in the region that can deal with major injuries.

“We are deeply shocked by the attack, the killing of our staff… and the heavy toll it has inflicted on healthcare in Kunduz,” MSF director of operations Bart Janssens said in a statement.

“We do not yet have the final casualty figures, but our medical team are providing first aid and treating the injured patients. We urge all parties to respect the safety of health facilities and staff.”

Kunduz is facing a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and insurgents’ families.

Precise losses in the fighting were not known, but health authorities said yesterday that at least 60 people have been killed and and 400 wounded.

As fighting spreads in neighbouring Badakhshan, Takhar and Baghlan provinces, concerns are mounting that the seizure of Kunduz was merely the opening gambit in a new, bolder Taliban strategy to tighten the insurgency’s grip across northern Afghanistan.

Afghan forces, backed by NATO special forces and US air strikes, have been going from house to house in Kunduz in a bid to flush insurgents out of the city.

The Taliban’s offensive in Kunduz, their biggest tactical success since 2001, marks a major blow for Afghanistan’s Western-trained forces, who have largely been fighting on their own since last December.

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.

In a statement, the Taliban accused “barbaric American forces” of deliberately carrying out Saturday’s strike, which “killed and wounded tens of doctors, nurses and patients”.

US-led NATO forces ended their combat mission in Afghanistan last December, though a 13,000-strong residual force remains for training and counter-terrorism operations.

But there has been an escalation in air strikes by NATO forces in recent months despite the drawdown.

- First published 10.52am 

With AFP

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