US air strike kills 16 aid workers in Afghan hospital

Afghanistan president says head of US-led forces in country has apologised for bombing

The MSF-run hospital in Kunduz ablaze after being hit in an air strike.
The MSF-run hospital in Kunduz ablaze after being hit in an air strike.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

KABUL • The head of United States-led forces in Afghanistan has apologised to the country's president after a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was bombed, killing at least 16 people, the president's office said.

The bombing yesterday continued for 30 minutes after staff raised the alarm to US and Afghan military officials, the aid group said.

A statement from President Ashraf Ghani's office said Army General John Campbell had provided details of the incident to Mr Ghani and apologised.

At least 37 people were wounded and many are still missing after the bombing, which will renew concerns over the use of US air power in the conflict in America's longest war. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai fell out with his backers in Washington over the number of civilians killed by bombs.

US forces launched an air strike at 2.15am local time, the spokesman, Colonel Brian Tribus, said in a statement earlier yesterday.

"The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility," he said, adding the incident was under investigation.

At the aid group's bombed-out hospital, one wall of a building had collapsed, scattering fragments of glass and wooden door frames, and three rooms were ablaze, said Mr Saad Mukhtar, director of public health in Kunduz.

Fighting has raged around the northern provincial capital of Kunduz as government forces backed by American air power seek to drive out Taleban militants who seized the city six days ago in the biggest victory of their nearly 14-year insurgency.

The US military unleashed 12 air strikes on the city this week, most on the city's outskirts. The overnight strike on the hospital was only the second in a central area, the military said.

Despite government claims to have taken control of the area, a bitter contest with the Taleban continues. Afghan security forces fought their way into Kunduz three days ago, but battles continue in many places, with Taleban hiding in people's homes.

Many patients and staff remain missing after the attack, which happened when almost 200 patients and employees were in the hospital, the only one in the region that can deal with major injuries, said the Switzerland-based MSF.

"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," said the aid group's operations director, Dr Bart Janssens.

MSF said it gave the location of the hospital to both Afghan and US sides several times in the past few months, as well as this week, to avoid being caught in crossfire.

The US embassy in Kabul said in a statement it "mourns for the individuals and families affected by the tragic incident".

The hospital was on the frontline in the fighting. On Friday, Taleban fighters hiding behind the walls of the hospital were firing at government forces, said Mr Khodaidad, a Kunduz resident who lives near the hospital. "I could hear sounds of heavy gunfire, explosions and airplanes throughout the night," said Mr Khodaidad, who has only one name.

European Union Commissioner for Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said he was shocked by the news of the bombing. France has called for an investigation.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2015, with the headline 'US air strike kills 16 aid workers in Afghan hospital'. Print Edition | Subscribe