Medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres denied that Taliban fighters were firing from its hospital at Afghan and NATO forces before a suspected US air strike killed at least 19 people in a battle to oust the Islamist insurgents from an Afghan city.
Fighting raged around the northern provincial capital of Kunduz for a seventh day as government forces backed by American air power seek to drive out Taliban militants who seized the city almost a week ago.
Decomposing bodies littered the streets and residents said that food was scarce.
MSF has said an air strike, probably carried out by US-led coalition forces, killed 19 staff and patients on Saturday in a hospital it runs in Kunduz, leaving 37 injured.
The US military said it conducted an air strike “in the vicinity” of the hospital, as it targeted Taliban insurgents who were directly firing on US military personnel.
US President Barack Obama said the defence department had ordered a full investigation into the incident as the UN human rights chief said the assault on the hospital was “utterly tragic, inexcusable” and that it could amount to a war crime.
The bombing deals a blow to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s policy of forging closer ties with the United States after his predecessor Hamid Karzai fell out with his backers in Washington in part over the number of civilians killed by bombs.
However, the Afghan leader will be torn between distancing himself from Washington and the need for American firepower to help his forces drive insurgents out of Kunduz after the Taliban’s biggest victory in the nearly 14-year-old war.
In a statement, Obama offered condolences to the victims of what he called “the tragic incident”.
In Kabul, the Afghan Ministry of Defence said Taliban fighters had attacked the hospital and were using the building “as a human shield”.
But the medical aid group has denied this.
“The gates of the hospital compound were closed all night so no one that is not staff, a patient or a caretaker was inside the hospital when the bombing happened,” Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a statement.
“In any case, bombing a fully functioning hospital can never be justified.”
Witnesses said patients were burned alive in the crowded hospital after the air strike. Among the dead were three children being treated.
The MSF hospital that was a lifeline for thousands in the city said it was pulling most of its staff out of the area because the hospital was no longer functioning.
Some staff had gone to help treat the wounded at other hospitals outside of Kunduz.
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