Three workers from Doctors Without Borders were killed and 30 were missing after an explosion near their hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that may have been caused by a US airstrike.
In a statement, the international charity said the “sustained bombing” took place in the early hours. Afghan forces backed by US airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz on Monday.
US forces in Afghanistan said they conducted an airstrike on Kunduz at 2.15 am local time. US Army Col Brian Tribus, said the strike “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility” and that the incident was under investigation. He said it was the 12th US airstrike in the Kunduz vicinity since Tuesday.
Doctors Without Borders said its trauma centre “was hit several times during sustained bombing and was very badly damaged”. At the time of the bombing, the hospital had 105 patients and their care workers, and more than 80 international and Afghan staff were present, it said.
Adil Akbar, a doctor at the trauma centre who was on duty at the time, said the operating theater, emergency room and other parts of the hospital complex had been hit in the bombing.
“I managed to escape after the attack but I know that most of the staff and even some of the patients are missing,” he said.
The number of dead and missing was provided by the charity. Sarwar Hussaini, the spokesman for the Kunduz provincial police chief, could not immediately confirm the number of casualties.
Bart Janssens, the charity’s director of operations, said “we do not yet have the final casualty figures,” adding that the group’s medical team was treating wounded patients and staffers.
“We are deeply shocked by the attack, the killing of our staff and patients and the heavy toll it has inflicted on healthcare in Kunduz,” he added.
"Our medical team are providing first aid and treating the injured patients and MSF personnel and accounting for the deceased. We urge all parties to respect the safety of health facilities and staff.”
Doctors Without Borders said it had treated 394 people wounded in fighting since the Taliban attacked the city. Afghan forces went in on Thursday, and the fighting has been under way since then as government troops try to clear the city of insurgents.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement saying there were no Taliban fighters in the hospital at the time of the bombing. It blamed Afghanistan’s intelligence service for misdirecting the airstrike to purposefully hit the hospital.
The MSF clinic in Kunduz is a sprawling facility with numerous buildings situated in the east of the city, in a residential area close to the local office of the NDS intelligence service.
MSF’s hospital is the only facility of its kind in the whole northeastern region of Afghanistan, providing free life- and limb-saving trauma care. MSF started working in Afghanistan in 1980.
Another Kunduz resident, Dawood Khan, said a cousin who works at the clinic as a doctor was lightly wounded in the bombing incident.
“I heard the sound of the bomb and rushed to the hospital to get news. The operating theatre was on fire, people were terrified, running everywhere,” he said. “A police officer on the scene told me that more than 20 people were injured and an unknown number killed.”
Electricity and water have been cut off since the Taliban’s Monday assault and seizure of the city, officials and residents said. Food and medical supplies cannot get through because the Afghan military is still working to clear mines planted by the Taliban. Sporadic gunfights are continuing in various pockets of the city, as troops advance street by street.
Most of the Taliban appear to have fled the city after the troops moved in on Thursday, taking looted vehicles, weapons and ammunition with them.