November 05, 2015

Today, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released to the public an internal document that reviews the airstrikes on October 3 by US forces on its hospital in northern Afghanistan. The chronological review of the events leading up to, during, and immediately following the airstrikes shows no reason why the hospital should have come under attack. There were no armed combatants or fighting on or from the hospital grounds.

The MSF internal review describes patients burning in their beds, medical staff that were decapitated and lost limbs, and others who were shot from the air while they fled the burning building. At least thirty people were killed, including 13 staff members, 10 patients and 7 unrecognizable bodies yet to be identified.

“The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF General Director. “But we don’t know why. We don’t have the view from the cockpit, nor what happened within the US and Afghan military chains of command.” 

The initial findings of the MSF investigation firmly establish the facts from inside the hospital in the days leading up to and during the attack.  The review includes the details of the provision of the GPS coordinates and the log of phone calls from MSF to military authorities in attempt to stop the airstrikes. MSF had reached an agreement with all parties to the conflict to respect the neutrality of the hospital, based on international humanitarian law.

“We held up our end of the agreement - the MSF trauma centre in Kunduz was fully functioning as a hospital with surgeries ongoing at the time of the US airstrikes,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of MSF. “MSF’s no-weapons policy was respected and hospital staff were in full control of the facility prior to and at the time of the airstrikes.”

Among the 105 patients at the time of the airstrikes, MSF was treating wounded combatants from both sides of the conflict in Kunduz, as well as women and children. 

“Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban,” said Stokes. “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 document, part of an ongoing review of events undertaken by MSF, is based upon sixty debriefings of MSF national and international employees who worked at the 140-bed trauma centre, internal and public information, before and after photographs of the hospital, email correspondence, and telephone call records.  

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

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