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MSF Leaves Afghan City, Demands Investigation Into Hospital Bombing

In this photograph taken on May 21, 2015, an Afghan child receives treatment at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, hospital in the northern city of Kunduz, after being wounded in a fight between the Taliban and Afghan forces.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says it has shut down its operations in the Afghan city of Kunduz, after suspected U.S. air strikes on its hospital killed at least 22 people.

The medical charity also called for an independent investigation into what it described as a war crime.

"Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body," MSF General-Director Christopher Stokes said.

Stokes added that the bombardment continued for more than an hour early on October 3, even after U.S. and Afghan authorities were informed the hospital had been hit.

MSF has said Afghan and coalition troops were fully aware of the exact location of the hospital, having been given GPS coordinates of a facility which had been providing care for four years.

MSF said 22 people were killed -- 12 staff members and 10 patients -- and 40 others seriously injured in the air strikes.

It said some 105 patients and their caregivers, as well as more than 80 international and local MSF staff, were in the hospital at the time of the bombing.

MSF denied any militants were present in the facility.

Afghan officials have claimed that insurgents were using the hospital building as a position to target Afghan forces and civilians.

"These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present," Stokes said.

"This amounts to an admission of a war crime," he said. "This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the U.S. government to minimize the attack as 'collateral damage.'"

'Deepest Condolences'

MSF's hospital in Kunduz is the only medical facility in northeastern Afghanistan that can deal with major injuries.

Its closure, even temporarily, could have a devastating impact on civilians.

"The MSF hospital is not functional anymore. All critical patients have been referred to other health facilities and no MSF staff are working in our hospital," Kate Stegeman, a spokeswoman for the charity, told AFP.

Stegeman said she could not confirm whether the hospital will reopen.

Earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama offered his "deepest condolences" for what he called a "tragic incident."

Obama also said the Pentagon has launched a "full investigation" into the air strikes.

But MSF's Stokes said that "relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient."

Stokes has called for an independent investigation.

NATO earlier conceded U.S. forces may have been behind the bombing, after they launched a strike which they said was intended to target militants.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein also called for a full and transparent probe, noting that an air strike on a hospital "may amount to a war crime."

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

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