Doctors Without Borders hospital raided in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan military commandos raided and searched a Doctors Without Borders’ hospital in the north of the country, firing several shots in the air and threatening the staff, the humanitarian group said Friday.

In a statement, Doctors Without Borders condemned the “violent intrusion,” which occurred on Wednesday, as a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

The group said that it had temporarily suspended work at the facility, which is in Kunduz, and is the main trauma hospital in Afghanistan’s northeast. The hospital has stopped admitting new patients, although the current patients are still being treated, the organization said.

“This serious event puts at risk the lives of thousands of people who rely on the center for urgent care,” Dr. Bart Janssens, the organization’s director of operations, said in the statement.

The local army brigade commander in Kunduz, Col. Nader, said he did not believe the army was involved. “Afghan National Army Special Forces have neither raided any hospital nor arrested anyone whatsoever,” he said. “We completely deny that Afghan National Army had any involvement at all.”

Local officials, however, speculated that an army unit from another part of the country had been involved. Calls seeking clarification from Interior Ministry officials went unanswered Friday night.

Afghan civilians wounded in crossfire and bomb blasts around the country usually turn to trauma care hospitals run by nongovernmental organizations such as Doctors Without Borders or Emergency, an Italian organization. Patients often come from neighboring provinces to seek care.

The hospitals generally refuse to permit armed men onto the premises, but they treat not only civilians but also wounded combatants from both sides of the conflict. “We never take sides,” Janssens said in the statement. “Our doctors treat all people according to their medical needs.”

The doctors often offer the best, and usually only, front-line care in a conflict that is killing and wounding more civilians than ever before. Civilian casualties from the war exceeded 10,000 people last year, the highest number since the United Nations began tracking them in Afghanistan in 2007. That number is expected to increase this year, as the Taliban gain ground and the fighting grows fiercer between the insurgents and the Afghan army and police forces, which number more than 300,000 strong.

Doctors Without Borders has been operating in Afghanistan for some 30 years, although it did withdraw from Afghanistan for a five-year stretch after five of its staff members were shot to death in 2004.

Kunduz, a commercial city not far from the border with Tajikistan, has been threatened by the Taliban since April, with fighting encroaching into the city’s outskirts. The government has rushed forces in from around the country to fight the insurgents.

In response to a reporter’s questions, Doctors Without Borders said that this was the first “armed intrusion” at the facility, known as the Kunduz Trauma Center, since it opened four years ago. The organization did say there had, in the past, been “tensions” with some of the many armed groups that operate around Kunduz with varying degrees of allegiance to the government.

“However, we have always managed to resolve problems through dialogue,” it said. “Up until now, we have been able to ensure a safe, neutral space, in which staff can provide medical care to our patients. We’re therefore extremely concerned by such a violent intrusion into the hospital.”

Some details of what occurred on Wednesday remain unclear, in part because the organization would not say whom the soldiers were searching for when they entered the hospital. But in the early afternoon, the group’s statement said, heavily armed men who said they belonged to the Afghan Special Forces entered the hospital and “cordoned off the facility and began shooting in the air.”

The soldiers assaulted three staff members and eventually arrested three patients, the group said. At one point, a staff member was threatened at gunpoint. The episode ended when the men released the patients and left on their own. It does not appear that the three patients who had been detained were the target of the raid.

In an interview, a member of the provincial council in Kunduz, Mohammad Yousaf Ayubi, said “the raid ended after the Special Forces finished their search and were satisfied that they were tipped with wrong intel and they left without arresting anyone.”

(Source / 03.07.2015)

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