Afghans in US fear deadly airstrike will wipe out key medical services

As Médecins sans Frontières pulls its remaining staff from Kunduz following , Afghans in the US worry that in areas threatened by the Taliban, the incident will result in critical medical aid and services being cut off.

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“They are there for the right reason, which is to help people,” said Dean Sherzai, an Afghan-American doctor who works for Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.

“They are the ones that have the management and infrastructure. They are the ones that bring small labs and capable doctors to far-out locations where children still die on a daily basis.”

The MSF hospital in Kunduz came under bombardment early on Saturday morning. Twenty-two people were killed, MSF said, including 12 hospital staff and three children. Thirty-seven others were injured.

In statements, MSF officials called the attack a war crime and said the organisation could not “accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’.”

The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, president Barack Obama and the defense secretary, Ash Carter, all promised full investigations into the strike, which took place five days after . The city was then the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and Afghan troops backed by international advisers.

On Monday the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, .

Campbell said he was correcting an initial US statement that said the airstrike was meant to defend US forces under fire. He did not apologise, but said he would have a preliminary report from US investigators in a couple of days’ time.

Afghan-Americans say organisations like MSF and the Swedish Committee for are the lifeblood of the country.

Sherzai returned to Afghanistan in 2002, after the US invasion in the wake of 9/11, and served as deputy minister of health for three years. He said that when he and his colleagues created a healthcare plan for the country, they built it on infrastructure that MSF and other non-governmental organisations had developed in areas where bodies including the Afghan government would not go.

“The medical staff that was killed [on Saturday] were all Afghan,” said Asila Wardak, minister counsellor to the Afghan mission at the United Nations in New York. “And after an attack like this, on a hospital, no young Afghan doctor is going to risk their life and travel to the provinces to work.

“There is no morale left for Afghan doctors after such a barbaric attack on a hospital.”

Wardak said many questions needed to be answered about the attack, including why international and Afghan forces did not intensify ground-fighting operations to clear the area around the hospital, where Taliban militants were believed to be hiding in homes.

MSF strongly rejected Afghan claims that .

“I hope that the investigation that president Obama and the Afghan government have promised will result in something and people will be held responsible for ordering 30 minutes of bombings that the hospital staff have reported that they lived through,” said Wardak.

MSF officials said critically injured patients had been moved to a hospital in the neighbouring province of Baghlan.

“Besides resulting in the deaths of our colleagues and patients, this attack has cut off access to urgent trauma care for the population in Kunduz at a time when its services are most needed,” said , in a statement.

According to the organisation, the bombed hospital was the only facility of its kind in the north-eastern region of Afghanistan, and had treated more than 390 people since fighting broke out in Kunduz last Monday. At the time of the bombings there were reportedly 80 international and Afghan hospital staff present, as well as 105 patients and their caretakers.

It is unclear whether the hospital was treating Taliban fighters at the time of the attacks.

“The bombing of the hospital cannot be justified even by saying that doctors were treating injured Taliban militants. Doctors have to treat everyone,” said Rahman Zamani, a doctor who now lives in northern California but worked in travelling clinics in southern Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border from 1980 until 1992.

Zamani said he routinely treated fighters from all sides injured in the decade-long war with the Soviet Union and later during the Afghan civil wars.

Zamani said that he understood that international and Afghan forces needed to clear areas of Taliban fighters, but said such operations should be better coordinated and carried out with greater care.

MSF said the Kunduz hospital had recently given its GPS coordinates to both sides in the fighting.

“Wounded fighters have to be supported and picked up by fighters in their own group,” said Zamani, recalling his experience working in Afghanistan. “I saw this all of the time and as a doctor I had to let them in so that they picked up their men.”

Sherzai, Zamani and Wardak all said the Taliban’s attack on Kunduz had them concerned about the stability of the country.

“There is no doubt that we still need international forces in the country and especially in Kunduz,” said Sherzai. “The alternative of the US not being involved and fighting the Taliban can be much worse.”

Source : theguardian[dot]com
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