Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have withdrawn staff from the embattled Afghan city of Kunduz after 19 people died in a possible US airstrike. The medical charity rejected claims that the Taliban used them as human shield.
Medecins Sans Frontieres - also known as MSF or Doctors Without Borders - left the Afghan city of Kunduz on Sunday, closing the only facility in the province large enough to deal with major war injuries.
"The MSF hospital is not functional anymore. All critical patients have been referred to other health facilities and no MSF staff are working in our hospital," spokeswoman Kate Stegeman told the AFP news agency.
Some of its employees have gone to other hospitals in the area, according to the organization.
"I can't confirm at this stage whether our Kunduz trauma center will reopen, or not," she added.
The move comes a day after the hospital was hit in a series of airstrikes, killing 12 staff members and seven patients, including three children. The group claims that the US military is responsible for the bombing.
The building was hit multiple times and the "patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds," said MSF's head of programs in northern Afghanistan, Heman Nagarathnam.
More than 80 MSF staff as well as 105 patients and their caregivers were at the hospital at the time, according to the charity.
No 'human shield'
NATO has conceded that US forces supporting Afghan troops against the Taliban may have been behind the bombing. The US officials also stated they conducted airstrikes near the facility and are investigating the bombing.
At the same time, Afghan officials said helicopter gunships fired at the Taliban who were using the building "as a human shield."
"There were reportedly around 100 Taliban fighters at the hospital before the attack was carried out," Kunduz province spokesman Abdul Wodud Wahidi told DW. "The coalition forces targeted the hospital based on this information ... but we don't know if any Taliban fighters were killed in the attack."
MSF rejected the statement, saying that no Taliban fighters attacked the hospital. "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," MSF said in a statement on Sunday.
MSF also called for an independent, transparent investigation of the airstrike.
"Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body," MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said in a statement.
The medical charity also added that, according to humanitarian law, hospital patients are considered noncombatants, regardless of their affiliation.
"In any case, bombing a fully functioning hospital can never be justified," MSF said.
Struggle for the city
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said US and Afghan officials have started a joint inquiry into the incident.
"The government is forming a joint investigation team with the coalition forces to probe the Kunduz bombing," said Ghani's spokesman Zafar Hashemi.
Some 70 people have died and over 500 more wounded since the Taliban first seized the key Afghan city last Monday, officials say. Afghan forces have since managed to take back all of the government buildings, but the fighting still rages on in many neighborhoods.
dj/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)