An Afghan clinic run by humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was bombed in a suspected U.S. airstrike Saturday. At least 19 staffers and patients were killed and 37 were injured after the bombardment.
American military forces in Afghanistan admitted they were conducting an airstrike at 2:15 am in Kunduz that “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”
Afghan officials, meanwhile, claimed there were 10 to 15 terrorists hiding in the hospital. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters, “All of the terrorists were killed but we also lost doctors.”
MSF said that twelve staffers and three child patients were among those killed.
Doctors Without Borders’ statement suggests more than just collateral damage. The Afghan trauma center “was hit several times during sustained bombing and was very badly damaged.” The hospital reportedly had 105 patients and caretakers, and more than 80 staffers from all over the world.
According to the aid group, U.S. forces continued bombing for 30 minutes after receiving phone calls telling them the hospital was being bombed. “All parties to the conflict including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location [GPS Coordinates] of the M.S.F. facilities – hospital, guesthouse, office,” the statement said.
The head of the Red Cross’ Afghanistan delegation also condemned the bombing, warning that “Such attacks against health workers and facilities undermine the capacity of humanitarian organisations to assist the Afghan people at a time when they most urgently need it.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter released a statement promising a full investigation into the bombing, noting that the area has been a site of intense fighting over the past week. “U.S. forces in support of Afghan Security Forces were operating nearby, as were Taliban fighters,” he said.
The U.S. military has already made the jobs of health workers in Afghanistan extremely dangerous. The CIA disclosed they ran a fake health clinic in order to get DNA samples from people in Osama bin Laden’s neighborhood in 2011. As a result, the Afghan Taliban started targeting international health workers as potential spies, particularly aid workers who were trying to spread the polio vaccine. Polio cases rose, as did the targeted killings of health workers. MSF has said that using aid workers as cover for military action “erodes the space for impartial humanitarian assistance.”
MSF has also raised concerns before this bombing that hospitals and clinics were increasingly being considered part of the battlefield by both sides. Armed opposition groups often kidnap health workers and attack hospitals, while Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces have all raided and fired on clinics.