At least nine have died after a United States airstrike hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz. Dozens of patients and staff were wounded, and the facility has been badly damaged.
US Army spokesman Col. Brian Tribus said in statement that a U.S. airstrike conducted at around 2:15 a.m. local time on Saturday (5:45 p.m. ET Friday) "may have caused collateral damage to a nearby health facility."
The operation was "against individuals threatening the force," Tribus said. An investigation currently is underway, he added.
The White House issued this statement from President Obama:
"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. I ... expect a full accounting of the facts and circumstances."
Kunduz has become the site of intense conflict since Taliban militants seized control of the provincial capital Monday. The Taliban had not captured a major city since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.
While Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told NBC News that up to 15 militants had were inside the hospital and had been targeting Afghan forces, two hospital employees said that there were no Taliban fighters inside nor fighting nearby.
Doctors Without Borders said the organization has treated 394 wounded fighters and civilians, including children, since the fighting broke out Monday. The hospital accepts patients from all sides of conflict, much to the irksome of local Afghan forces.
Also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the international medical charity said that the Saturday bombing has killed 12 staffers and seven patients and at least 37 people seriously injured while many of the 105 patients and 80 doctors and nurses remain unaccounted for.
In a statement, MSF said both U.S. and Afghan forces were notified of the facility’s GPS coordinates prior to the attack.
“Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, which was full of staff and patients,” the statement said. “As it does in all conflict contexts, MSF communicated the precise locations of its facilities to all parties on multiple occasions over the past months, including most recently on September 29.”
The bombing continued for 30 minutes after the hospital telephoned their military contacts, the statement continued. Critically injured victims are being transferred to a hospital two hours’ drive away, in the city of Puli Khumri.
An unidentified nurse told The New York Times that hospital workers died from severe burns in the fires set off by the bombs.
“Most of my colleagues died in the fire after the bombing,” he said. “When the bombing occurred, we were treating patients; then we lost our way, everyone stumbled and fumbled to escape.”
According to the director of public health for Kunduz Province, Saad Mukhtar, another 40 to 50 wounded patients were taken to the regional hospital in Kunduz.
Aid agencies in war zones are often caught in the crossfire of bombings and strikes. In May, 17 international nonprofit groups signed a condemnation of airstrikes in Yemen initiated by a Saudi-led coalition backed by the US, calling for a ceasefire.
According to the Long War Journal, US airstrikes in Yemen have totaled 122 since 2002, killing 608 enemies and 105 civilians. In Afghanistan, 19,368 civilians have been killed in fighting since 2009, the UN reports. Saturday’s strike in Kunduz marks the second US bombing in the city since it fell to the Taliban.
"Healthcare facilities are protected under international humanitarian law, and any attack on them is extremely concerning," Ewan Watson, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told VICE News. "The humanitarian impact is potentially enormous in an area that is dependent on this one hospital."