MSF releases grim new details from Afghan hospital bombing

General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Christopher Stokes (right) speaks during a press conference.
General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Christopher Stokes (right) speaks during a press conference. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (AFP) - Medical charity MSF on Thursday (Nov 5) released grim new details from a catastrophic US bombing of an Afghan hospital, saying staff had been decapitated and lost their limbs with some gunned down from the air.

Last month's raid in the northern city in Kunduz killed at least 30 people, sparking an avalanche of global condemnation and forcing the French-founded charity to close the trauma centre.

"The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy," MSF general director Christopher Stokes said in Kabul while releasing an internal review of the strike.

"But we don't know why. We don't have the view from the cockpit, nor what happened within the US and Afghan military chains of command."

The review described patients burning in their beds, medical staff that were decapitated and lost their limbs, and others who were shot from the air as they fled the burning hospital.

Three separate investigations - led by the US, Nato and Afghan officials - are looking into the strike, but MSF has labelled the incident a war crime and demanded an independent probe by an international fact-finding commission.

US President Barack Obama has admitted the strike was a mistake, but the Pentagon has offered shifting explanations for what exactly went wrong.

MSF said the raid by an American AC-130 gunship, which occurred after the Taleban's brief but bloody capture of Kunduz, lasted around an hour despite repeated messages to military officials in Kabul and Washington that were listed in the report in chilling detail.

"At 2.56am an SMS was sent from MSF in Kabul to Resolute Support (Nato) insisting that the airstrikes stop and informing that we suspected heavy casualties," read the report.

"At 2.59am an SMS reply was received by MSF in Kabul from Nato saying 'I'll do my best, praying for you all.'"

Afghan officials have repeatedly said that Taleban fighters had sought shelter in the hospital, in a tacit justification for the bombing that drew widespread condemnation.

"Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taleban," said Stokes.

The charity's review acknowledged that approximately 20 Taleban fighters were being treated in the hospital at the time of the bombing but insisted that "MSF's no-weapons policy" inside the compound was enforced.

"Wounded combatants are patients under international law, and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination. Medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants," Stokes said.

The airstrike forced the closure of the trauma centre in Kunduz, which had been a lifeline in the war-battered region.

At least 10 patients and 13 staff are among the 30 dead, MSF said, warning that the toll could rise still further.