Twenty-two people died in the shelling of a clinic in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The U.S., which is presumed responsible, promises clarification.
Destroyed: part of the clinic in Kunduz. Photo: msf handout/dpa
The U.S. has launched an investigation into the incident after a hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz was shelled, killing at least 22 people. "A full investigation into the tragic incident is underway in coordination with the Afghan government," US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced. U.S. President Barack Obama called it a "tragedy."
The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) facility was apparently accidentally hit by U.S. bombs. According to MSF, at least 22 people died. This means that a total of ten patients and twelve MSF staff are dead following Saturday’s incident. The organization called for an independent investigation into the incident.
It also announced Sunday that it was withdrawing from the city for the time being. The clinic is "no longer usable," a spokeswoman told AFP news agency on Sunday. The organization was no longer operating there, she said, adding that patients in need of urgent treatment had been transferred to other clinics. "I cannot say at this time whether the trauma center will reopen or not," the spokeswoman said.
The calibration facility is funded solely by donations and treats everyone – regardless of origin or religion. Sabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Islamist Taliban, said, "None of our fighters were patients at the clinic at the time of the attack."
"Hideous violation of international law"
Since the surprise Taliban attack on Kunduz on Monday, government forces with the help of NATO have been trying to regain complete control of the city.
Doctors Without Borders strongly condemned the incident, saying, "This attack is a heinous and grave violation of international humanitarian law," MSF President Meinie Nicolai said, according to a statement. "We cannot accept that this terrible loss of life is simply dismissed as ‘collateral damage.’" All indications were that the bombing was carried out by the alliance of international forces, he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Carter stated that U.S. forces and Taliban fighters were operating nearby at the time of the shelling. "While we are still trying to figure out exactly what happened, I want to tell everyone affected that I dedicate my thoughts and prayers to them," a written statement said. Obama also offered condolences to the bereaved families. The results of the Defense Department investigation will be awaited "before we make a final assessment of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy," the U.S. president said, according to a White House statement.
NATO mission spokesman in Afghanistan Sernando Estreooa said, "U.S. forces conducted an airstrike near the facility at 2:15 a.m. local time on Oct. 3, where individuals threatened troops." U.S. Forces in Afghanistan spokesman Brian Tribus acknowledged this may have accidentally hit a nearby medical facility. The incident is under investigation, he said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urged a swift, comprehensive and unbiased investigation. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed his dismay.
Nearly 200 people were staying at the clinic at the time of the attack. According to Doctors Without Borders, as a precautionary measure, all parties to the conflict were provided with the exact geodata of their facilities on several occasions, most recently on September 29. It also said it had re-contacted the U.S. and Afghan military after the attack began; nevertheless, the bombardment continued for more than 30 minutes.
The organization released pictures of the clinic in flames and the massive damage. In one photo, doctors tend to injured patients and staff in a crowded small room. "The bombs hit and then we heard the aircraft flying circles," the head of MSF’s mission in northern Afghanistan, Heman Nagarathnam, was quoted as saying in a statement. "Then there was a pause and then more bombs hit. This kept happening."