The United States military has launched an investigation following outcries against the deadly results of a pre-dawn U.S. airstrike launched in the Afghan city of Kunduz. Thus far the reason for the airstrike is not known to the public but condemnation from humanitarian groups and the United Nations have followed the act. Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has suffered a major loss, as the aerial bombardment of that strike decimated the hospital they had set up in the area and killed at least 19 people.
The blasting of the trauma city has left 12 of the Afghan staff members and seven patients — three of whom were children — dead, and the charity reports that an additional 37 persons were injured. All who died were Afghans. The sustained bombing reportedly began around 2 a.m. and the building has been left a smoldering, charred rubble.
The charity is demanding answers and accountability as all combatants had long ago been made aware of where the hospital was with reminders sent out as recently as Tuesday. CNN reports that in a statement given, Meinie Nicolai, the president of MSF is calling the attack a violation and was outraged at the suggestion that the deaths from the attack were collateral damage.
“(The bombing) constitutes a grave violation of international humanitarian law. We demand total transparency from coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage.’ There are many patients and staff who remain unaccounted for. The numbers may grow as a clearer picture develops of the aftermath of this horrific bombing.”
The fact that the bombing continued even after the organization made it known to U.S. and Afghan military officials that the Doctors Without Borders hospital was being attacked raises serious questions. U.S. Army Col. Brian Tibus said the circumstances surrounding how the airstrike they were carrying out “nearby” would have affected the hospital were still unclear. The military was officially targeting insurgents who were firing directly on U.S. service members.
President Barack Obama issued a statement of condolence on Saturday morning to the medical professionals and those patients killed or injured in the hospital attack.
“The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgment as to the circumstances of this tragedy. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to all of the civilians affected by this incident, their families, and loved ones.”
Kunduz has been the heart of intense and relentless fighting over the past week after Taliban forces stormed the city on Monday. In an effort to recapture the city, the U.S. military took drastic measures and had carried out at least 12 airstrikes against the military group. Special-operations advisers were deployed to provide tactical guidance and the U.S. troops have been forced into a rare engaging of direct ground combat as many Taliban members remain holed up in buildings and continue to fight.
However, the hospital compound is gated and Christopher Stokes, the general director of Doctors Without Borders maintains that there were no signs of insurgents or even fighting in their region prior to the deadly airstrike. He stated that staff members would have noticed and notified management if such activities had been present.
The bombing lasted for almost half hour and one nurse posted of his social media page about the horrors he saw afterwards; patients and doctors charred almost beyond recognition. Majority of the Doctors Without Borders compound was destroyed i the airstrike, the hospital’s main building – which housed the intensive care units, ER and physiotherapy – saw repeated hits and took the brunt of the damage. Hours after the attack parts of the hospital were still in flames and makeshift facilities had to be erected so that doctors and nurses could perform surgeries.
The controversy surrounding airstrikes will no doubt always exist as incidents like this are not isolated. NATO and the U.S. previously had to tighten rules of engagement due to overwhelming pressure from humanitarian groups due to the alarming amount of casualties that come from airstrike usage. The Wall Street Journal says that U.S. airstrikes have drastically reduced as their military presence lessens. The Afghan military had previously banned airstrikes; although, after this hospital incident they may revisit their stance.
[Photo by Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]