The U.S.-led coalition is investigating

By Adam Carlson
Updated October 03, 2015 01:40 PM
Credit: M decins Sans Fronti res/AP

Nineteen people were killed 12 medical employees and seven patients, including three children following the Saturday bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, which may have been carried out by the United States amidst fighting with the Taliban.

In a statement to PEOPLE, the organization condemned the attack in Kunduz as a “grave violation” of international law, and said it believes the bombing was carried out by U.S.-led coalition forces.

The coalition carried out an airstrike at about 2 a.m. local time in the country, targeting “individuals threatening force,” spokesman Col. Brian Tribus told the Washington Post.

“The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility,” Tribus told the newspaper. “This incident is under investigation.”

U.S. forces are in Kunduz supporting the recent Afghan effort to retake the city from the Taliban, according to the New York Times.

The Doctors Without Borders trauma center in Kunduz was struck several times by bombing starting at 2:08 a.m. local time and continuing in 15-minute intervals until 3:15 a.m. local time, the organization said.

A local police official told the Times that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital, but two hospital employees disputed that and said there was no fighting nearby at the time of the bombing.

DWB, which provides medical assistance to those in need worldwide while maintaining neutrality in armed conflicts, said it had repeatedly communicated its exact location in Kunduz, via GPS coordinates, to all parties during the ongoing conflict.

The last communication was on Tuesday, according to DWB.

“This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law,” Meinie Nicolai, president of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said in the statement. “We demand total transparency from coalition forces.

“We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage.’ ”

The organization is calling for an independent investigation into the bombing. It was not immediately clear if the DWB had spoken with any military officials in the aftermath of the bombing.

PEOPLE was not immediately able to reach U.S. military officials for comment.

An AC-130 gunship was returning fire Saturday against the Taliban, near the hospital, an anonymous U.S. military source told the Post. U.S. special forces were on the ground advising Afghan forces, the official told the paper.

It appears the main part of the hospital was targeted “very precisely” during each round of bombing, the DWB said, “while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.”

“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round,” Heman Nagarathnam, head of programs in northern Afghanistan, said in the statement. “There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames.

“Those people that could had moved quickly to the building s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds.”

Thirty-seven people were injured in the bombing, some critically, including 19 staff members, according to DWB. There were 105 patients and their caretakers and more than 80 staff at the hospital at the time of the bombing, according to DWB.

“There are many patients and staff who remain unaccounted for. The numbers may grow as a clearer picture develops of the aftermath of this horrific bombing,” the group said in an earlier statement to PEOPLE. It was not immediately clear if the casualty numbers were now definitive.

Saturday morning, the group shared images on Twitter of what it said were its Kunduz facilities, burning.

The group also shared images of its work in the aftermath.

Both the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations echoed the DWB’s condemnation of the attack, according to the Times.

In a statement to the Post, the U.S. Embassy said Doctors Without Borders is “terrific.”

“Doctors Without Borders performs terrific work throughout the world, including Afghanistan, and our thoughts and prayers are with their team at this difficult moment. We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Kunduz and the difficult humanitarian situation faced by its residents,” the embassy said.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama issued a statement, saying the that Department of Defense was launching a “full investigation” on the bombing.

“Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to all of the civilians affected by this incident, their families, and loved ones,” Obama said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “We will continue to work closely with President Ghani, the Afghan government, and our international partners to support the Afghan National Defense and Security forces as they work to secure their country.”

The U.S.-led coalition has faced previous controversy over possibly imprecise airstrikes, including one in July which killed 10 Afghan soldiers, according to the Post.

DWB said it is operating the only hospital of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan.

Additional reporting by SANDRA SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL