A U.S. airstrike in the Afghan city of Kunduz hit a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Saturday, killing at least 19 people at the medical center, the medical charity said.
In a statement, MSF said the “sustained bombing” took place at 2:10 a.m. local time and continued for 30 minutes after staff raised the alarm to U.S. and Afghan military officials. Three children are believed to be among the dead.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the United States still was trying to determine how the airstrike hit the hospital. “A full investigation into the tragic incident is under way in coordination with the Afghan government,” Carter said in a statement.
He said the area around the hospital had been the scene of intense fighting in recent days with U.S. forces supporting Afghan Security Forces against Taliban fighters. The incident could renew concerns over the use of its air power in the conflict.
The head of U.S.-led forces in the country later phoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to apologize, according to a statement from Ghani’s office.
UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that the incident was “inexcusable” and possibly criminal. Zeid called for a full and transparent investigation, noting that, “if established as deliberate in a court of law, an air strike on a hospital may amount to a war crime.”
Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz earlier this week. Tribus said Saturday’s deadly raid was the 12th U.S. airstrike “in the Kunduz vicinity” since Tuesday.
Doctors Without Borders said its trauma center “was hit several times” during the attack and that the hospital was “very badly damaged.”