U.S. Air Strike Hits Hospital in Afghanistan

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The Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan after being hit by airstrikes.

An overnight airstrike by U.S. forces on a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, has killed at least 19 people, and possibly more than 20, according to an M.S.F. doctor who spoke with the Guardian. At the time of the bombing, the facility housed 105 patients and more than 80 M.S.F. staff members, and of the confirmed dead, 12 were staff and seven were patients, and at least 37 more people were wounded as well, including 19 staff members, five of whom are in critical condition. So far, it seems that none of the international doctors who were volunteers at the hospital were injured. Since the facility was so heavily damaged, some of the casualties were treated at a hastily rebuilt clinic at the scene, while others were transported to another hospital some two hours away.

There are still conflicting reports regarding why the airstrike happened, but as the Associated Press reports, a fierce battle for control of the city of Kunduz has been under way over the past several days between U.S.-backed Afghan forces and Taliban insurgents, who had seized the city Monday in their biggest urban advancement since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. The AP also reports that according to the Afghan officials, Afghan forces had been taking fire from Taliban fighters who had used the hospital as a shooting position, and that they had called in helicopter strikes on the facility as a result, while an M.S.F. official says that they heard a plane circling the site while the attack was under way. Elsewhere, ABC News reports that U.S. special forces were engaged with the Taliban in the area as well. Further illustrating the confusion, two staff members at the facility have said that no active fighting was happening near the hospital, and no Taliban fighters had entered.

Regardless, what’s especially troubling about the attack is that M.S.F. reports they had not only distributed the GPS coordinates of the hospital to all sides active in the conflict, but also alerted U.S. and Afghan officials after the strike began. And yet it then continued for an additional 30 minutes. Both U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and the head of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Army General John Campbell, have now offered their condolences, and a U.S. investigation into the attack is under way.

Said M.S.F. President Meinie Nicolai in a statement, “This attack is abhorrent and 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.’”

A video of the aftermath is below: