An airstrike supposedly carried out by the United States military struck a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan early Saturday morning, killing at least nine employees of the international medical organization known for serving those on the front lines of conflict and disease. Doctors Without Borders Communication Manager Kate Stegeman confirmed on Twitter that at least 16 people were killed in all, including seven patients in the intensive care unit. Nearly 20 Doctors Without Borders staff were among the 37 wounded in the airstrike, the organization confirmed in a statement. Update 10/3/15: Doctors Without Borders confirmed 12 staff members were killed.
"We are deeply shocked by the attack, the killing of our staff and patients and the heavy toll it has inflicted on healthcare in Kunduz," Bart Janssens, the organization's director of operations, said in a statement. "Our medical team are providing first aid and treating the injured patients and MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières’] personnel and accounting for the deceased. We urge all parties to respect the safety of health facilities and staff."
Located in the Afghan city of Kunduz, the hospital is the only medical facility serving northeastern Afghanistan. According to Doctors Without Borders, more than 100 patients were being treated at the Kunduz medical facility at the time of the airstrike. Another 80 Doctors Without Borders international and national staff were also in the hospital. In an update Saturday morning, the organization said many of its staff are still unaccounted for, but did not give an approximate number.
Doctors Without Borders also posted several photos of the burning hospital. The organization said on Twitter that the airstrike continued for more than 30 minutes, and the bombings did not stop even though Doctors Without Borders alerted both U.S. and Afghan military officials in Kabul and Washington, D.C.
The U.S. military said Saturday that it would investigate the deadly airstrike, Reuters reported. The airstrike was reportedly part of an ongoing campaign to eradicate the Taliban, which moved into northeastern Afghanistan earlier this week.
In a post published to the Doctors Without Borders website on Wednesday, the medical organization said its Kunduz has been "overwhelmed" this week with city residents wounded in the heavy fighting between the Afghan military and local Taliban forces. Nearly 200 people were treated at the Kunduz hospital since Monday, Sept. 28, the organization said.
“The hospital is inundated with patients," said Guilhem Molinie, the Doctors Without Borders representative for Afghanistan. "We have quickly increased the number of beds from 92 to 110 to cope with the unprecedented level of admissions, but people keep arriving."
The Kunduz hospital is the only medical facility in the region, and it specializes in trauma and surgical care. “With the government provincial hospital not currently functioning, MSF’s hospital is now the only place in Kunduz where people in need of urgent trauma care can receive it," Molinie said in a statement Wednesday.