Afghan Bombing with Patients Burned to Death in their Beds: A War Crime
October 5, 2015
News24.com & BBC News
President Barack Obama has pledged a full investigation into an apparent US air strike on an Afghan hospital that killed 19 people, in a bombing the UN said could amount to a war crime. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said patients burned to death in their beds during a bombing raid that continued for half an hour after US and Afghan authorities were informed the hospital had been hit.
Afghan Bombing: Patients
Burned to Death in their Beds, Says MSF
KABUL (October 4, 2015) -- President Barack Obama has pledged a full investigation into an apparent US air strike on an Afghan hospital that killed 19 people, in a bombing the UN said could amount to a war crime.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said patients burned to death in their beds during a bombing raid that continued for half an hour after US and Afghan authorities were informed the hospital had been hit.
"Twelve staff members and at least seven patients, including three children, were killed; 37 people were injured," the charity said. "This attack constitutes a grave violation of international humanitarian law."
The air raid came days after Taliban fighters seized control of the strategic northern city of Kunduz, in their most spectacular victory since being booted from power by a US-led coalition in 2001.
Afghan forces, backed up by their Nato allies, claimed to have wrestled back control of the city.
But the defence 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.
"The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round," said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF's head of programmes in northern Afghanistan.
"There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames.
"Those people could have 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."
In a statement released by the White House, US President Barack Obama offered his "deepest condolences" for what he called a "tragic incident".
"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.
Nato earlier conceded US forces may have been behind the bombing, after forces launched a strike they said was intended to target militants.
"The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation," a Nato statement said.
The incident has renewed concerns about the use of US air strikes in Afghanistan, a deeply contentious issue in the 14-year campaign against Taliban insurgents.
UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called for a full and transparent probe, noting: "an air strike on a hospital may amount to a war crime".
"This event is utterly tragic, inexcusable and possibly even criminal," he said.
'Again and Again'
MSF said some 105 patients and their caregivers, as well as more than 80 international and local MSF staff, were in the hospital, the only medical facility in the area that can deal with major injuries, at the time of the bombing.
The charity said Afghan and coalition forces were fully aware of the exact location of the hospital, having been given GPS co-ordinates of a facility it said had been providing care for four years.
"This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law," said MSF President Meinie Nicolai.
"We demand total transparency from Coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as 'collateral damage'."
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.
The Taliban seized on the incident, saying "barbaric American forces... carried out deliberate air strikes on a civilian hospital".
In a statement, it denied any of its fighters were being treated at the MSF clinic "because the prevailing military situation of Kunduz would not allow us to admit our patients to the said hospital".
The Islamists' offensive in Kunduz marks a major blow for Afghanistan's Western-trained forces.
US-led Nato forces ended their combat mission in Afghanistan last December, though a 13 000-strong force remains for training and counter-terrorism operations.
Afghan Official's MSF Death Count Doesn't Add Up
Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
(October 4, 2015) -- On October 3, 2015, Sediq Sediqi, representing the Afghan Interior Ministry at a press conference in Kabul, assured a CBS correspondent that:
"Ten to 15 terrorists were hiding in the hospital that night. And they came under attack. And they were killed: all of the terrorists were killed. . . . It's much better now because most of them were, you know, killed during the operations. . . ."
But if 19 people were killed -- including 12 MSF doctors and 9 patients -- Sediqi's explanation requires believing that 10-15 of the doctors, civilians and three children killed were "terrorists."
UPDATE: As of October 5, 2015, three more patients had died from their injuries, bringing the total loss of life from the US attack to 22.
Afghan Hospital Attack in Kunduz Possibly Criminal -- UN
(October 4, 2015) -- Air strikes on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz that killed 19 people were "tragic, inexcusable and possibly even criminal", the UN human rights chief says.
High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged a full and transparent investigation into the attack.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said at least 12 of its staff and seven patients were killed.
US forces were carrying out air strikes at the time. At least 37 people were seriously injured, 19 of them MSF staff.
"All indications currently point to the bombing being carried out by international Coalition forces," MSF said.
The Nato alliance has admitted its forces may have hit the hospital.
US President Barack Obama expressed his "deepest condolences" for the deaths in a White House statement. But he said he would wait until the US defence department had conducted its own investigation before making a definitive judgement on the incident.
UN High Commissioner Zeid earlier said: "International and Afghan military planners have an obligation to respect and protect civilians at all times, and medical facilities and personnel are the object of a special protection. "These obligations apply no matter whose air force is involved, and irrespective of the location."
MSF said that all parties to the conflict, including Kabul and Washington, had been told the precise GPS co-ordinates of the hospital on many occasions, including on 29 September.
In a statement, the charity said all indications pointed to the bombing being carried out by international coalition forces.
It reported that from 02:08 until 03:15 local time, the hospital was hit by a series of aerial bombing raids at approximately 15-minute intervals.
The main central hospital building -- housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, and physiotherapy ward -- was repeatedly hit during each aerial raid while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched, it added.
"The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round," said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF head of programmes in northern Afghanistan.
"There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building's two bunkers to seek safety."
MSF president Meinie Nicolai described the incident as "abhorrent and a grave violation of international humanitarian law".
She added: "We demand total transparency from coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as 'collateral damage'."
A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col Brian Tribus, said: "US forces conducted an air strike in Kunduz city at 02:15 (local time) .... against individuals threatening the force.
"The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.
In a statement, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said: "While we are still trying to determine exactly what happened, I want to extend my thoughts and prayers to everyone affected. "A full investigation into the tragic incident is under way in co-ordination with the Afghan government."
Gen John Campbell, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, later confirmed the air strike was "in the vicinity" of the MSF facility but was targeting "insurgents who were directly firing upon US service members".
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the US-led Nato force had offered condolences over the incident.
The Afghan interior ministry said a group of 10 to 15 militants were hiding in the hospital.
"They are killed, all of the terrorists were killed, but we also lost doctors," ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said.
The Taliban denied that any of its fighters were there.
A Taliban statement described the air strikes which hit the hospital as "deliberate", and carried out by "the barbaric American forces".
MSF says that staff and patients critically injured in the attack on the hospital have been transferred to a hospital in Pul-e Khumri, two hours' drive away.
There has been intense fighting in Kunduz since Taliban fighters swept into the northern city on Monday.
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