A Doctors Without Borders official said there might be more bodies in the heavily damaged main building of the Kunduz hospital, but the group had not been able to return to it because of security concerns.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The death toll may increase significantly from an airstrike that devastated the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, officials from the organization said Thursday, as the search continued for 24 staff members.
The deaths of 12 hospital workers and 10 patients have been confirmed in the U.S. airstrike, with an additional 37 people wounded. Five days after the Oct. 3 attack, Doctors Without Borders could not find the 24 workers.
“We are worried,” said Guilhem Molinie, the group’s country representative in Afghanistan. “We fear that some of them may be dead.”
Molinie said there might be more bodies in the heavily damaged main building of the hospital, but the group had not been able to return to inspect it because of security concerns.
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New details of the attack emerged Thursday at a news conference the organization held in Kabul, the capital, as its officials repeated their call for an independent, international investigation.
The U.S. warplane that attacked the hospital, believed to be an AC-130 gunship supporting U.S. Special Operations or Special Forces troops, made five bombing runs, spaced about 15 minutes apart, beginning at 2:08 a.m. Saturday, Doctors Without Borders officials said, and the attack continued for an hour and 15 minutes.
Each of the five air attacks, described as strafing runs — with the aircraft firing rapidly with munitions that caused explosions inside the building — targeted the main hospital building, which housed the emergency room, intensive-care unit, blood lab and X-ray area, the group said.
“It was hit with precision repeatedly while surrounding buildings were left untouched,” Molinie said.
Patients in wards, some no more than 10 yards from the main building, were untouched, according to Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the initials MSF.
There was no active ground combat near the hospital at the time of the attack, as far as officials inside the hospital could tell, Molinie said.
Taliban and government fighters were being treated in the hospital — a fully equipped trauma center specializing in war wounds, with 150 beds and a staff of more than 400 that included expatriates and Afghans. Doctors Without Borders officials insisted there had been no weapons or explosives inside the hospital compound, in line with its longstanding policy.
Christopher Stokes, the organization’s general director, said in Kabul that when President Obama called the international president of Doctors Without Borders, Dr. Joanne Liu, on Wednesday to apologize for the airstrike, she asked him to support an investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission.
Obama replied that he had confidence in the three military investigations already under way, Stokes said. One is being conducted by the U.S. Army and one by NATO, and there is a joint Afghan-U.S. military investigation.