VIJAY SHAH via Financial Times/Reuters
As the Afghan armed forces seek to retake the northern city of Kunduz after a surprise invasion by the Taliban earlier this week, reports have come in of a possibly misplaced American air strike on a hospital, killing three people, the UK’s Financial Times and news agency Reuters have claimed.
The US military, currently working alongside Afghan forces to hold back the Taliban, once Afghanistan’s rulers before the 9/11 attack, had acknowledged today that it may have been responsible for the attack on the hospital facility, which is managed by international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The casualty estimate at the moment stands at three dead and another thirty missing, possibly more.
According to a statement released by US colonel Brian Tribus, the US sorties were sent in around 2.15 am local time as the Taliban were engaged in street fighting with the Afghan national army following their biggest surprise victory in the last fourteen years. Hundreds of Taliban fighters swarmed into Kunduz, completely catching the local provincial government by surprise.
In the statement, Col. Tribus also said: “The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility,” he added. “This incident is under investigation.”
Eyewitness reports of the damage to the hospital state that one wall of the main building has been completely obliterated, leaving behind debris including shattered wooden door frames and broken glass from the hospital’s windows. Three of the facility rooms are also said to be on fire, according to Saad Mukhtar, director of public health in Kunduz.
Mukhtar was one of those who witnessed the damage from the strike. In a visit to the MSF building, the director said: “Thick black smoke could be seen rising from some of the rooms,”
“The fighting is still going on, so we had to leave.”
Due to the ongoing fighting, MSF have not been able to take a complete note of casualties or to assess structural damage. At the time of the strike, there were believed to be around 200 patients and staff present in the Kunduz hospital. It is the only hospital in the Kunduz Province, which borders Tajikistan, equipped to deal with major injuries.
“We are deeply shocked by the attack, the killing of our staff and patients and the heavy toll it has inflicted on healthcare in Kunduz,” the aid group’s operations director, Bart Janssens, said.
MSF staff members are currently battling to not only treat existing patients, but also those injured in the strike.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, told Reuters that US air strikes had targeted the hospital, killing patients, doctors and nurses. He denied allegations that Taliban militants were being treated at the hospital, which might have made it a target for US drones trying to pick off Taliban leadership figures.
The hospital’s chief, Dr Masood Nasim, said the hospital was under increasing strain and risk as the battle frontline reached it this week, with gunfights taking place just outside its gates. Medical staff reported hearing all manners of ammunition, such as shelling, rockets, and fighter jets passing overhead, Nasim claimed. Staff even discovered stray bullets coming through the roof of its intensive care unit.
MSF have said they have so far treated almost 400 patients at the Kunduz hospital since fighting broke out six days ago. Most of the people rushed to the 150-bed facility were victims of gunshot wounds sustained in the fighting, although it did not state if they were civilians or military personnel of whatever side. The hospital had been struggling to cope the massive influx, with many new patients being forced to recuperate on mattresses laid on floors or in the hospital’s offices.
There is no word on who ordered the strike on the Kunduz hospital, or whether it was deliberately targetted in hit in error.