KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of those killed in an American airstrike that destroyed the Doctors Without Borders hospital in the northern city of Kunduz was much higher than previously thought, the medical group announced Saturday.
The death toll “has been confirmed to be at least 42 people,” the group, also known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, said in a news release. Previously, the United States military and the United Nations had put the death toll at 30.
In a separate statement issued on Saturday, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan announced the preliminary findings of its own investigation into civilian casualties in Kunduz, which was overrun by the Taliban at the end of September, and was the scene of intense fighting for more than two weeks until the insurgents were forced out, purportedly by Afghan forces but with substantial help from American Special Operations forces and heavy American airstrikes.
According to the figures compiled by the United Nations, 289 civilians were killed from Sept. 28 to Oct. 13 in the Kunduz fighting, and 559 were wounded. “The vast majority of these casualties resulted from ground fighting that could not be attributed solely to one party,” the statement said.
Doctors Without Borders said the revised death toll from the strike was arrived at after an exhaustive investigation by the organization that included combing through the rubble of the hospital to find further human remains, interviewing family members of missing victims and crosschecking with other hospitals. The group said it concluded that the death toll was “at least 42 people”: 14 staff members, 24 patients and four relatives of patients.
“Although determining the death toll has been extremely difficult in the chaos of the facility’s wreckage following the attack, extensive efforts have been undertaken to identify those who have died,” the group’s statement said. “As well, additional human remains had been found in the hospital rubble over the course of the past two months.”
The United States military conceded, after an internal investigation, that the Oct. 3 airstrikes on the hospital were a mistake. It blamed human error and mechanical and systems failures, and it said that action would be taken against an unspecified number of American servicemen. However, the military did not release the report of the investigation, and so far there has been no announcement of what disciplinary or other actions, if any, have been being taken against those deemed culpable.
Doctors Without Borders has demanded an international investigation of the airstrikes that would be carried out under the Geneva Conventions, asserting that the military’s own investigation would inevitably be biased and lack credibility. But such an investigation could only take place if both Afghanistan and the United States consented to it.
Senior Afghan officials have continued to insist, in the absence of any credible evidence and even in contradiction of the United States military’s findings, that the hospital had been used by the Taliban during the fighting. The United States has so far declined to support an independent inquiry.
On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders presented a petition to the White House signed by 547,000 people calling on President Obama to agree to the independent investigation. “Only a full accounting by an independent, international body can restore our confidence in the commitments of the United States to uphold the laws of war, which prohibit such attacks on hospitals in the strongest terms,” said Jason Cone, the group’s executive director in the United States.
The aerial bombardment by both American and Afghan forces killed at least nine other civilians, in addition to those killed at the hospital, according to the United Nations report, which did not incorporate the latest death toll announced by Doctors Without Borders. Even with the United Nations’ lower figures, more than a tenth of all civilians killed in Kunduz during that period of fighting died in the hospital attack.
“This event was utterly tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights commissioner, has said.
The United Nations’ report was by comparison only mildly critical of the United States military, saying that it had not responded to requests for information about what had happened. Instead, it was told by the military that information would come from various ongoing internal inquiries. The United Nations noted that so far, the complete reports of those investigations had not been made public.
In a separate development, elite Afghan police units on Saturday brought to an end an overnight siege of a residential annex to a building adjoining the Spanish Embassy in the diplomatic quarter of Kabul, killing the last of three attackers.
Seven people were killed, in addition to the three attackers, and at least seven others were wounded, Afghan officials said. Four Afghan police officers, two foreign citizens and an Afghan electrician who worked at the guesthouse were killed, said Fraidoon Obaidy, head of criminal investigation for the Kabul police.
The two foreigners killed were Spanish police officers, according to a statement from the Spanish Interior Ministry. It was the most deadly attack on a Western embassy here in many years.
It took so long to subdue the Taliban attackers, who entered the building after detonating a car bomb, because the authorities wanted to take care to minimize civilian casualties, said Abdul Basiur Mujahed, a spokesman for the Kabul police.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents, said on his Twitter account, “A guesthouse of invaders was targeted.”Continue reading the main story