Portraits of some of the victims in Kunduz hospital bombing
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — On Oct. 3, a U.S. AC-130 gunship — at the request of Afghan ground forces fighting the Taliban, according to the American commander in Afghanistan Gen. John F. Campbell — mistakenly bombed a trauma hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, killing at least 10 patients and a dozen Afghan staffers. Many more were wounded, and many remain missing in the wreckage of the now-abandoned hospital. The aid group’s international staff members have been accounted for. President Barack Obama apologized and the U.S. military is investigating.
Family and friends of some of the victims spoke with The Associated Press. Here are their stories:
Waheedi, known as Dr. Muhibullah, 35, grew up in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where his family took refuge during the 1980s invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union. He graduated in medicine from Kunduz University before returning to Quetta, where he worked for two years with Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF. His was married with five children — three girls and two boys, the youngest aged three. He also had four brothers, three of them doctors.
“When Kunduz was overrun by the Taliban, we brothers were living together in a house close to the MSF hospital, but as things got worse, the others decided to leave for safer places — except Muhibullah. He stayed because he believed MSF was safe, as all sides in the war respected its neutrality,” said his brother Abdul Rahman.
“On the night of the bombing, he went to the hospital around 9 p.m., and we were in touch until about 11 p.m. when I went to bed. Around 1 p.m. on the following day, one of his friends called me and said Muhibullah’s body had been found and he was dreadfully burned. I tried to get to the hospital, but there was shooting and it took me some time.
“When I got there, I started looking for my brother among all the charred bodies but I couldn’t recognize him. Finally, I had to ask the man who had called me to show me where Muhibullah was. I could hardly tell it was him. It was inhuman. I will never forget that moment.
“I keep asking, why my innocent brother, who did nothing but help people no matter what side of the war they were on, was killed in this way?”
Dr. Salarzai, 34, had worked in the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz for more than three years, after running a Comprehensive Health Center in Dasht-e-Archi district. He graduated from medical school at Balkh University, and was married with three children, the oldest a boy aged three, his cousin Hamdullah said.
When the Taliban seized Kunduz on Sept. 28, Salarzai took his wife and children to Chahar Dara, where he’d been born and where he believed they would be safe. With his family secure, Salarzai worked around the clock at the hospital, said Hamdullah, who worked at the hospital as a cleaner.
“We didn’t get any sleep for three days because more and more patients kept coming in,” he said. “The doctors didn’t get a wink.”
“On Friday, when I had finished my shift, I went to his room and suggested we go home and get some rest,” Hamdullah said. “He just looked at me and said ‘How can I possibly leave all my patients? I studied medicine to be of service to people who need my help, not to go home and sleep.’ ”
At 10 p.m. that night, Hamdullah found his cousin in the operating theater, and again urged him to get rest. Salarzai repeated that his duty was with those who needed him.
Hamdullah then slept for a few hours in a dormitory, until the first bombs fell around 2 a.m. “My father called me and said he’d heard that Aminullah had been wounded. I called him, asked him where he was and what was going on.”
Salarzai confirmed he was wounded, said he was surrounded by flames and smoke, and told him to stay away, that it was too dangerous.
Hamdullah ignored him.
“I found him outside the operating theatre, his right leg missing, the rest of him covered in blood,” he said. They carried Salarzai to a table in the hospital kitchen, where other doctors tried to save him. But he was bleeding into his abdomen, and he would die without blood and medicine.
“So I ran for half an hour to the regional hospital to get supplies. But by the time I got there, friends called me from the hospital to say Aminullah had died.
“Before I left to get help, while his leg was being operated on, Aminullah told me: ‘Listen my son, I don’t think I will survive so please take care of my children.’ He told me ‘don’t worry, it happens to everyone, life is short, one day we will all be gone.’”
Rahman, 23, worked as a nurse in the hospital’s emergency ward. His uncle Mohammad Hassan described him as selfless. On Friday Oct. 2, Rahman returned to his home in Dasht-e-Archi, a rural district northeast of Kunduz city, to enjoy the weekly holiday with his family. “In the evening he said he was going back to the hospital because it was so busy with wounded people coming in all the time,” Hassan said.
“I received a call around 1 p.m. on Saturday to tell me he was missing. On my way to the hospital, there was intense gunfire and it was difficult to get through the blocked streets. My cousin was injured in the shooting. It wasn’t until there was a lull in the shooting that I was able to get through. I checked the bodies one by one and just couldn’t find him. And we still have no word.
“I’ve been trying to find out which MSF staff were there at the time, if anyone can tell me where he was at the time of the bombing. But there were just so many dead bodies, it was impossible to identify anyone.”
Pashtoonyar, 28, joined the staff of MSF as a security guard just three months before the U.S. airstrike. Previously he had worked for more than three years as a reporter and news anchor at Radio Kaihan, where his former boss spoke highly of him. He had left when the radio station’s financial problems forced layoffs.
“He was a quiet man, very kind, and loved journalism,” said Zarghoona Hassan, director of Radio Kaihan. “Even though he left the station, he never stopped loving radio and would come by on Fridays and whenever he had spare time,” she said. He also worked with youth organizations in Chahar Dara, directing cultural programs outside the city.
Pashtoonyar had 11 brothers and 4 sisters, and had been married for six years, but had no children.
“He spent a lot of money on treatment for his wife,” Hassan said. “I know his only wish in life was to have a son or a daughter, but his life ended before his dream could come true.”
The Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee said he was severely wounded by shrapnel and reached the government-run Kunduz Hospital too late to be treated.
Abdul Sattar Zaheer
Dr. Zaheer, 49, graduated from Kabul Medical University in 1994 and had worked for health institutions around Afghanistan before joining the medical staff of Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, more than two years ago. A graduate of Kabul Medical University, he was married with eight children — four girls and four boys.
His son, Enayatullah Hamdard, a professor of agriculture at Kunduz University, said Zaheer worked in management, but with the influx of patients due to the Taliban attack, he took his place alongside the doctors at the trauma center who were almost overwhelmed with the influx of wounded.
“He told us that he was spending most of his time on patient care and that’s what he was doing when the bomb attack happened,” Hamdard said. At 6 a.m. on Oct. 3, other relatives went to the hospital to collect Zaheer’s body. “His corpse was completely burnt; I couldn’t bring myself to look at his face.”
Zaheer’s body was identified by Mohammad Ibrahim, his brother-in-law who also was a health professional at the Doctors Without Borders hospital. Hamdard said Ibrahim recognized what was left of Zaheer’s face.
Dr. Osmani, 35, lost his father when he was three years old and grew up with an aunt and uncles in Parwan province, near Kabul. He graduated from Balkh University medical school in 2011 and soon after joined the staff as an emergency doctor at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz. He had recently been offered a position at Kabul’s Noor Hospital and had given notice that he would be leaving, said his brother, Najibullah Osmani.
“He loved his job and during the emergency after the Taliban attack, he was spending most of his time at the hospital, in the emergency room,” Najibullah said. Esanullah was in the emergency room when it was bombed, he said. “He was very kind. All the staff, local and international, loved and respected him.”
Ehsanullah, who had four brothers and four sisters, was also a stylish man and a proficient tailor, making fashionable clothes for himself as well as friends and relatives. “He also was a good swimmer, a good writer and public speaker,” Najibullah said. “He was fastidiously clean and liked to cook, holding dinner parties where he’d cook different foods from all over Afghanistan.”