Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) has halted all operations in the conflict-stricken Afghan province of Kunduz after bombs striking a hospital killed at least 22 on Saturday.
The attack that left 12 doctors dead has since then been revealed as part of a US-led airstrike targeting Taliban fighters. MSF reports that between the hours of 2:08 and 3:15 AM, the hospital was hit by a series of aerial bombs precisely aimed at the centre of the hospital. In addition to placing several calls to both the US and Afghani armies during the bombing, MSF had recently provided the GPS coordinates of the hospital to Coalition and Afghani officials. According to MSF, these were all routine practices taken during heightened conflict. However, this was not enough to stop the attack; which also killed at least 10 patients, including three children.
Afghani officials quickly released a statement calling the attack “retaliation”; with the governor of Kunduz, Hamdullah Danishi stating in an interview:
“The hospital campus was 100 percent used by the Taliban… the Taliban were there. We tolerated their firing for some time (before bombing)”
Médecins Sans Frontières has vehemently refuted these claims since the appalling attack; and on Sunday the organization released an official statement, calling the tragedy a “war crime”. MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said:
“… Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S. airstrike on Saturday morning…We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched.
We condemn this attack, which constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law.”
In addition, many shocked observers contend that under international rules of engagement, MSF is bound to provide humanitarian aid for all injured parties, thus rendering the attack wholly unjustified. MSF has called for a “full and transparent investigation” by an independent body to ensure maximum transparency and accountability. On the same day, U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans for launching a full investigation into the circumstances that led to the deaths. However, the MSF statement expresses concern over the insufficiency of an “internal investigation” conducted by a “party to the conflict”.
MSF has been operating in this region for four years, providing free high level life- and limb-saving trauma care at the only hospital of its kind in north-eastern Afghanistan (5). Since a period of intense fighting began last Monday, MSF had already treated over 394 patients. There is hope that once an investigation is underway and the security of doctors and MSF personnel can be insured, that some form of operations may resume.
On behalf of OWP, we send our sincere condolences to the families of all the doctors, humanitarian workers, and patients who lost their lives on Saturday.