The survivors of a US airstrike on a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, say those patients unable to move were burned to death during the assault.
“Those people that could, had moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds,” recalled Heman Nagarathnam, the head of programs by the charity group, known by its French acronym, MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres).
It was also said that a patient was left in the operating room on the table “dead, in the middle of the destruction.”
“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round,” Nagarathnam said, adding, “There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again.”
The MSF said in a statement that at 2:10 a.m. local time on Saturday (2040 GMT) its trauma center in Kunduz was hit several times. It added that the aerial assault continued for more than half an hour after US and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington were first informed.
According to the statement, the Saturday attack left 19 people dead and dozens more seriously injured.
Patients Were Burned in their Beds…
Lajos Zoltan Jecs, an MSF nurse and a survivor of the horrific bombardment, described the US airstrike as “absolutely terrifying.”
The nurse, who was inside the facility during the strike, said, “We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was.”
“In the intensive care unit six patients were burning in their beds,” Jecs added.
The facility is the only one in the northeastern region of Afghanistan capable of taking care of major injuries. According to the MSF, over 100 patients and their caregivers, as well as more than 80 international and local MSF staff were in the hospital when the airstrike took place.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday “strongly” condemned the airstrike and said hospitals and medical personnel are “explicitly protected” under international humanitarian law.
In addition, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein said the airstrike “may amount to a war crime.”
US President Barack Obama has pledged a full investigation into the strike. “The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgement as to the circumstances of this tragedy,” Obama said.
The defense ministry in Kabul said “a group of armed terrorists… were using the hospital building as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians”.
MSF has denied any combatants were present in the hospital.
The charity said despite frantic calls to American and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington, the attack continued for another 30 minutes, with the main hospital building housing the intensive care unit and emergency rooms being targeted.
Kunduz is facing a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and insurgents. At least 60 people are known to have died and 400 wounded in recent fighting.