NEWS

After Deadly Airstrike, Doctors Without Borders Leaves Afghan City

10/04/2015 09:41 EDT | Updated 10/04/2015 09:59 EDT

KABUL-- The International medical charity Doctors Without Borders said on Sunday it had withdrawn from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz after a deadly airstrike destroyed its hospital and killed 19 people.

The humanitarian crisis in the city, which briefly fell to the Taliban last week before the government launched a counteroffensive, has been growing increasingly dire, with shops shuttered because of ongoing fighting and roads made impassable by mines planted by insurgents.

"All critical patients have been referred to other health facilities and no MSF staff are working in our hospital,'' said Kate Stegeman, the communications manager for Doctors Without Borders, using the French acronym for the organization.

"Some of our medical staff have gone to work in two hospitals where some of the wounded have been taken,'' she added.

Investigations are continuing into the bombing of the hospital on Saturday, which killed at least 19 people, including 12 MSF staffers.

The group blames a U.S. airstrike for the death and destruction. Afghan officials said helicopter gunships returned fire from Taliban fighters who were hiding in the facility.

Stegeman said there were no insurgents in the facility at the time of the bombing. AP video footage of the burned out compound in the east of Kunduz city shows automatic weapons, including rifles and at least one machine-gun, on windowsills.

President Ashraf Ghani said a joint investigation was underway with U.S. Forces and President Barack Obama said he expected a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the bombing.

The Taliban seized Kunduz last Monday but have since withdrawn from much of the city after a government counterattack. Sporadic battles continue as troops attempt to clear remaining pockets of militants.

Habibullah, whose home is in central Kunduz, said the Afghan flag was flying over the central square _ contrary to reports that it had been retaken by the insurgents. Gun battles were being fought in three districts on the outskirts of town, he said, notably Bandar-I-Khanabad, Bandar-I-Kabul and Sei Darakh.

Acting provincial Gov. Hamidullah Daneshi said most of the insurgents had fled the city and that those still standing their ground appeared to be what he called ``foreigners,'' non-Afghans who have been boosting Taliban forces in the north of the country for some months. Officials have said that many of them are from Central Asian states, members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Daneshi said that 480 Taliban fighters had been killed as of Friday, and around 300 wounded. He put casualties among Afghan security forces at 30 to 35 killed or wounded.

The Taliban's brief seizure of Kunduz marked the insurgent group's biggest foray into a major urban area since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ended their rule.

Afghan forces have been struggling to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO shifted to a support and training role at the end of last year, officially ending their combat mission in the war-torn country.

Militants blocked and mined roads as soon as they entered Kunduz to prevent people from leaving and to thwart a government's assault.

The deputy head of the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority, Aslam Sayas, said he was aware of the growing needs of people trapped inside the city. ``We are waiting for the security situation to improve to give us an opportunity to reach those needy people,'' he said.

Saad Mukhar, the Kunduz provincial public health director, estimates that more than 70 people have been killed and more than 500 wounded in the city since the fighting began.

``I'm afraid that if this situation continues, we will not be able to help our patients because right now we are facing a serious, drastic shortage of medicine,'' he said.

Rahmatullah Hamnawa, a reporter with Salam Watandar radio, said cooking gas prices had more than doubled.

Grocers and pharmacists who spoke with The Associated Press by telephone from inside the city said they make furtive deliveries after assessing the security situation.

Shir Aghan, who runs a general store, said shops were full of food items, but many shop keepers had fled to neighbouring provinces before the Taliban sealed the city. ``People call me and if it's safe I'll go out and sell them what they need,'' he said.

Local television showed live footage of police officers handing bread to children, one of whom said he had not eaten for three days.

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Associated Press writers Humayoon Babur and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.