Dr Kathleen Thomas was working at an Mdecins Sans Frontires hospital in Afghanistan in October 2015, when a US gunship bombarded it in an attack that killed dozens. In an eyewitness account, she relives the horror of that day
After the Taliban swept through the north Afghan city of Kunduz last autumn, and the government launched a bloody offensive to retake it, only one hospital offered real hope of survival to those caught by bullets, rockets or grenades.
So in the early hours of 3 October, the wards of the Mdecins Sans Frontires trauma centre were full, and its exhausted surgeons were working late into the night to tackle a backlog of major surgeries. They were tired but not overly frightened. The raging battles of the last week seemed to have calmed slightly and, while war is always unpredictable, the doctors inside the walled compound had considered themselves as safe as anyone can be near heavy fighting.
Medical facilities are protected under international humanitarian law, and the charity has won the Nobel peace prize for its work across the worlds conflict zones.
Foreign forces had registered the hospitals location and were expected to know the rules of war. All weapons were banned in hospital grounds, and both government and Taliban fighters sought treatment inside its walls, meaning neither had an incentive to attack it. But at around 2am, a blast ripped apart the intensive care unit, where patients included two children. It was the start of around an hour of airstrikes on the buildings, and strafing attacks on doctors, patients and staff desperately seeking shelter in corners of the compound.
As the attack planes returned again and again, and the hospital collapsed and burned, MSF staff inside the hospital, in Kabul and in the United States put in frantic calls to contacts in the US military from Afghanistan to Washington DC. They appeared to have no effect. As the attack wound down, a representative of Natos Resolute Support mission in the Afghan capital sent a text to the charity saying: Ill do my best, praying for you all.
By then at least 30 people were dead or dying, some burned beyond recognition; others were killed on the operating table. Dozens more were horribly injured.
The top US general in Afghanistan described the attack as a tragic mistake and said the gunships targeting systems failed. MSF called for an independent investigation into the airstrikes, pointing to a string of discrepancies between the official US military account and witness reports of how the horror unfolded.
Dr Kathleen Thomas is an intensive care doctor from Australia, and was on her first trip with MSF at the time of the attack. Here, she offers an eyewitness account of the bombing and its aftermath. Emma Graham-Harrison
Dr Kathleen Thomas: The plane hit with alarming precision
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