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Doctors Without Borders: US Airstrike on Afghan Hospital Targeted Fleeing Staff

MSF staff reeling after a US airstrike destroyed large portions of a hospital run by the charity in Kunduz, Afghanistan. (MSF/AFP photo)

MSF staff reeling after a US airstrike destroyed large portions of a hospital run by the charity in Kunduz, Afghanistan. (MSF/AFP photo)

The international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released an internal report on the deadly October 3 American bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

The MSF report, released on Thursday, says the strike, in which at least 30 people were killed, appears to be a war crime and that the US conducted the attack “with a purpose to kill and destroy.”

The report casts additional doubt on US claims that the attack was unintentional and adds new details of the horrific events that unfolded during the strike. It describes patients burning in their beds, medical staff who were decapitated and lost limbs and staff members being shot from the air while they fled the burning building.

“Many staff describe seeing people being shot, most likely from the plane, as people tried to flee the main hospital building that was being hit with each airstrike,” the report said. “Some accounts mention shooting that appears to follow the movement of people on the run. [MSF] doctors and other medical staff were shot while running to reach safety in a different part of the compound.”

MSF had provided US and Afghan officials GPS coordinates of the hospital well in advance of the strike, and MSF staff frantically phoned coalition authorities in a desperate bid to stop the attack, which continued despite the calls.

“The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy,” said MSF General Director Christopher Stokes in the report. “But we don’t know why. We neither have the view from the cockpit, nor the knowledge of what happened within the US and Afghan military chains of command.”

At least 30 people were killed in the airstrikes, including 13 staff members, 10 patients and seven unrecognizable bodies yet to be identified. There were some 105 patients being treated in the hospital at the time of the attack, including combatants from both sides of the conflict as well as women and children.

The US military has admitted that an airstrike targeting Taliban militants, who had recently captured large portions of the northern city of 300,000 residents, accidentally hit the charity hospital. President Barack Obama offered his “deepest condolences” to the the people affected by what he called a “tragic incident.”

After claiming the strike occurred because American troops were in danger, Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of US military forces in Afghanistan, admitted the military incorrectly reported its personnel were under direct threat at the time of the attack. MSF also rejected Afghan government claims that Taliban militants used the hospital as a base as “spurious.”

“There were no armed combatants or fighting within or from the hospital grounds,” the report states.

“Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban,” said Stokes in the report. “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.”

“The attack destroyed our ability to treat patients at a time of their greatest need,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of MSF, in the report. “A functioning hospital caring for patients cannot simply lose its protected status and be attacked.”

There are three different investigations of the deadly strike, led by the US, NATO and the Afghan government, all of which are connected to the incident. MSF has demanded an independent investigation, but US officials have resisted calls for an outside probe.

Over the past 70 years, the US military has killed more foreign civilians than any other force on earth, with millions of innocent men, women and children killed in more than a dozen nations around the world. It is estimated that more than 1.3 million people, the majority of them civilians, have died in the US-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan alone.

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