MSF medical charity leaves Kunduz after air strike

Probe continues after apparent US air raids hit hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, as death toll rises to 23.

Kunduz, Afghanistan
The air raid came days after Taliban fighters seized control of the strategic northern city of Kunduz [MSF handout]

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has withdrawn from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, the international medical charity has said, after an apparent US air strike destroyed its hospital.

The announcement came on Sunday, a day after the attack killed several hospital staff and patients. Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations, told Al Jazeera that the death toll is now up to 23, including 13 staff and 10 patients.  


In a separate interview, Kate Stegeman, the communications manager for the group known for its French acronym MSF, said all critical patients have been referred to other health facilities and no MSF staff are working in the hospital.

“Some of our medical staff have gone to work in two hospitals where some of the wounded have been taken.”

Aminullah, a Kunduz resident, told Al Jazeera that all of the doctors were moving to Kabul or Mazar-e-Sharif, fearing for their lives.

His three children and wife “haven’t eaten for the past three days. We don’t even have a water supply. My children are falling sick and I don’t know where to take them”, he said.

“Forget about getting medical treatment, no one is able to even provide coffins for the dead bodies in the city.”

The air raid came days after Taliban fighters seized control of the strategic northern city of Kunduz, in their most significant victory since being booted from power by a US-led coalition in 2001.

Afghan forces, backed up by their NATO allies, claimed to have wrestled back control of the city.

But the defence ministry in Kabul said: “A group of armed terrorists … were using the hospital building as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians.”

MSF has denied that any fighters were present in the hospital.

The charity said that despite frantic calls to US and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington, the attack continued for another 30 minutes, with the main hospital building housing the intensive care unit and emergency rooms being targeted.

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“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle around,” said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF’s head of programmes in northern Afghanistan.

“There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames.

“Those people that could have moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds.”

In a statement released by the White House on Saturday, Obama offered his “deepest condolences” for what he called a “tragic incident”.

“The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgement as to the circumstances of this tragedy,” Obama said.

NATO earlier conceded that US forces may have been behind the bombing after forces had launched a strike they said was intended to target fighters.

“The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation,” a NATO statement said.

– Additional reporting by Shereena Qazi – @ShereenaQazi

Source: AFP, AP