Doctors Without Borders condemns U.S. bombing of Afghan hospital as ‘war crime’

Fires burn in the emergency trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after it was hit and partially destroyed by aerial attacks on Oct. 3, 2015. (Credit: MSF)

The U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan this weekend constitutes a war crime, the aid group said. At least 22 people are dead and Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is demanding an independent and transparent investigation into the strike.

“Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF general director, in a statement.

An emergency trauma hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was struck by a series of aerial bombs between 2 and 3 a.m. on Oct. 3. Bombs struck the main hospital building housing the intensive care unit and emergency rooms – surrounding buildings were unharmed. The explosions and damage killed 12 staff members and 10 patients, and injured another 50 staff and patients.

“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round,” said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF head of programs in northern Afghanistan, in a statement. “There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again.”

In this photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 3, 2015, Afghan MSF staff react in one of the remaining parts of the MSF hospital in Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike. (MSF)

In this photograph released by Doctors Without Borders on Oct. 3, 2015. Afghan MSF staff react in one of the remaining parts of the MSF hospital in Kunduz after it was hit by an airstrike. (Credit: MSF)

A statement from NATO shortly after indicated that U.S. forces may have been responsible for the attack. It called the mistake “collateral damage.” The bombings were in support of Afghan Security Forces on the ground fighting Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz last Monday.

The hospital was running at full capacity, treating both sides in the fighting, before the airstrikes. One of the few such facilities in the region, it was a valuable lifeline for people affected by violence. Nearly 400 wounded people were treated at the hospital since the outbreak of violence last Monday. Some 105 patients and 80 staff were in the hospital at the time of the attack.

MSF said that there were no reports of fighting in the compound prior to the attack. It raised the possibility that the bombings were targeted because only certain buildings were destroyed. MSF provided coalition forces and Afghan military with its exact location using GPS coordinates for the facility.

“This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law,” said Meinie Nicolai, MSF president, in a statement. “We demand total transparency from coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage.’”

Wreckage smoulders in part of the MSF hospital in Kunduz on October 3, 2015 after it was hit by an air strike. (MSF)

Wreckage smolders in part of the MSF hospital in Kunduz on Oct. 3, 2015, after it was hit by an airstrike. (Credit: MSF)

So far, U.S. President Obama promised a full investigation. MSF is increasing public pressure on the administration to determine what happened and be held accountable for the attack. Afghan officials claimed late Sunday that the area was being used by Taliban for military purposes. MSF says that amounts to an admission of guilt.

“MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present,” said Stokes.

“This amounts to an admission of a war crime.”

 

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.