MSF says 33 staff, patients still missing after US air strike

Thirty-three people are still missing five days after a catastrophic US air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz that has prompted international outrage, medical charity Doctors Without Borders said Thursday.

Of the missing, nine are patients and 24 are staff, according to Guilhem Molinie, country representative for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Afghanistan. “We are still in shock,” Molinie told a press conference in Kabul.

“We lost many colleagues and at the moment it’s clear that we don’t want to take the risk for any of our staff. We don’t control the hospital.” The strike in the early hours of October 3 killed 12 MSF staff and 10 patients, prompting the charity to close the trauma centre, seen as a lifeline in a war-battered region with scant medical care.

A New York Times report this week said the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan thought American forces had broken their own rules of engagement in carrying out the strike. US President Barack Obama on Wednesday apologised to MSF head Joanne Liu, admitting the strike was a mistake.

Three separate probes — by the US military, NATO and Afghan officials — are under way. But the charity, which has condemned the attack as a war crime, is stressing the need for an international investigation, saying the bombing raid was in contravention of the Geneva Conventions.

“We cannot rely on an internal military investigation,” Liu told reporters in Geneva, insisting that the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission should probe the bombing. International aid groups, the United Nations and a growing tide of global revulsion have added to the pressure on Washington to come clean over the strike, which came days after the Taliban overran the northern city Kunduz.

Hungry, thirsty and war-wounded residents, slowly emerging from their houses Wednesday after days of pitched street battles in the northern city, complained that Kunduz lacked essential medical support. Molinie said Thursday MSF has not received any assurances that would give them the “confidence” to return to Kunduz.

“MSF will be reviewing the security conditions of all its operations in Afghanistan,” general director Christopher Stokes told the press conference.