3 children among 16 dead in bombing of Afghan hospital

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Doctors Without Borders says the death toll from the bombing of a hospital compound in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz has risen to 16, including three children killed.

A spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan says it’s investigating whether a U.S. airstrike is responsible. Afghan officials say Taliban fighters had been sheltering in the building.

In a statement, the international charity said the “sustained bombing” took place at 2:10 a.m. (2140 GMT). Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz on Monday.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan said they conducted an airstrike on Kunduz at 2:15 a.m. The spokesman, U.S. 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. Tribus said it was the 12th U.S. airstrike “in the Kunduz vicinity” since Tuesday.

Doctors Without Borders said its trauma center “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 caretakers, and more than 80 international and Afghan staff, it said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said 10 to 15 “terrorists” had been hiding in the hospital at the time of the strike. “All of the terrorists were killed but we also lost doctors,” he told a press conference. He said 80 staff at the hospital, including 15 foreigners, had been taken to safety.

 

Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. special representative in Afghanistan, condemned the “tragic and devastating airstrike” on the hospital. “I reiterate my call on all parties to the conflict to respect and protect medical and humanitarian personnel and facilities,” he said in a statement.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which also has facilities in Kunduz, said it was “deeply shocked.”

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 underway since then.

Sediqqi said Afghan forces were still sweeping the city for militants, conducting “meter to meter, house to house operations” that would continue until “all those bad elements” had been eliminated.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement saying there were no Taliban fighters in the hospital at the time of the bombing. It accused Afghanistan’s intelligence service of misdirecting the airstrike to purposefully hit the hospital.

The 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.

Another Kunduz resident, Dawood Khan, said a cousin who works at the clinic as a doctor was lightly wounded in the bombing.

“I heard the sound of the bomb and rushed to the hospital to get news. The operating theater was on fire, people were terrified, running everywhere,” he said.

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.

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.

Officials have reported that they have moved east, into Takhar and Badakhshan provinces, where a number of districts fell to the Taliban on Friday. The Defense Ministry said troops had retaken the Baharak district after retreating under fire Friday.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued an emergency notice to Americans in Badakhshan, saying they should “consider departing the area immediately.”