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Nine Aid Workers Killed In Airstrikes On Kunduz Hospital


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A tragic incident in Afghanistan in the northern city of Kunduz, where allied forces are still fighting with the Taliban, a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders - known around the world as MSF - was hit by an airstrike early today. At least nine of the organization's staffers are dead. At least 30 people are missing. The U.S. military acknowledged it did carry out an airstrike around the time the hospital was hit. We're joined by NPR's Philip Reeves who's monitoring developments in Islamabad. Phil, thanks for being with us.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: What do we know about what happened?

REEVES: Well, Doctors Without Borders have a trauma center in Kunduz, and it's been overwhelmed with injured people, including loads of kids, since Monday. That's when the Taliban overran the city, and since then, the Afghan government forces have been battling to take the city back. And Doctors Without Borders is saying that 2:10 local time, the hospital was very badly damaged by an airstrike. It's talking about sustained bombing. There were some 200 patients and staff inside the hospital at the time. And they're also saying that they gave their exact GPS coordinates to the combatants on multiple occasions - they always do that in war zones - most recently, they say, on Tuesday. So they want to know how this horrific bombing could happen. And, they say, that the bombing continued in Kunduz 30 minutes after they told U.S. and Afghan officials, in Washington and in Kabul, that they'd been hit.

SIMON: What's the U.S. military say so far?

REEVES: Well, you should know, the U.S. combat mission ended late last year, but, you know, it would be a disaster for the Afghan government and for Washington, you know, which gives its support to that government, if the Taliban were able to keep control of Kunduz. So U.S. and NATO forces have been supporting the Afghan security supporters there, and there've been about a dozen U.S. airstrikes there in recent days. Now, the U.S. military's acknowledging that there was one at 2:15 a.m. That's just slightly different from the time given by Doctors Without Borders, but it's around the same time that the hospital was hit. And the U.S. military says it was against individuals, threatening forces and that there may have been, it says, collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. It says it's investigating.

SIMON: How damaging, potentially, is this to efforts for U.S. forces to support Afghan forces and achieve popular support?

REEVES: Well, it's bad. It hands a propaganda coup to the Taliban, who've long-demanded that all foreign troops should leave Afghanistan. Only the other day, also, Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, was on TV urging people to trust the country's U.S.-trained security forces. It's a lot harder to engender that trust if their allies appear to have done something like this.

There's already a lot of anger directed at the Afghan government about the fact that a relatively small force of Taliban fighters was able to take a very important provincial capital. And there's been quite a strong statement, also, from the U.N. secretary-general's special representative to Afghanistan, who says that hospitals accommodating patients and medical personnel can never be the object of attack.

SIMON: NPR's Philip Reeves in Islamabad - thanks very much for being with us, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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