KABUL—President Barack Obama has promised a full investigation into an apparent US air strike on an Afghan hospital that killed 19 people, a bombing that the UN said could amount to a war crime.
Doctors Without Borders said patients burned to death in their beds during a raid that continued for more than an hour early Saturday, even after US and Afghan authorities were informed the hospital had been hit.
“Twelve staff members and at least seven patients, including three children, were killed; 37 people were injured,” the charity said. “This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of international law.”
The air raid came days after Taliban fighters seized control of the strategic northern city of Kunduz, in their most spectacular victory since being toppled from power by a US-led coalition in 2001.
Afghan forces, backed up by their NATO allies, claimed to have wrestled back control of the city.
But the defense ministry in Kabul said “a group of armed terrorists... were using the hospital building as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians”.
MSF has denied any combatants were in the hospital.
The charity said that despite frantic calls to military officials in Kabul and Washington, the main building housing the intensive care unit and emergency rooms was “repeatedly, very precisely” hit almost every 15 minutes for more than an hour.
“The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round,” said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF’s head of programs in northern Afghanistan.
“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.”
US President Barack Obama offered his “deepest condolences” for what he called a “tragic incident”.
“The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgment as to the circumstances of this tragedy,” Obama said in a statement.
NATO earlier conceded US forces may have been behind the bombing, after its forces launched a strike which they said was intended to target militants.
“The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation,” a statement said.