A nurse with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) who survived Saturday's hour-long bombing of an Afghan hospital is speaking out about the scene he called "absolutely terrifying."
MSF nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs was in the Kunduz trauma hospital in northern Afghanistan when it was hit early Saturday morning, likely by U.S.-led coalition forces. The medical aid group said Sunday the death toll had risen to 23, including 13 staff and 10 patients -- three of whom were children.
The bombing was a blitz of chaos, terror and confusion, with patients burning in their beds and medical staff with massive injuries searching desperately for their colleagues. One doctor died on the operating table, Zoltan Jecs wrote on MSF's website, recounting the horrifying eyewitness ordeal.
Upon looking into one of the compound's burning buildings, Zoltan Jecs called the scene indescribable: "There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds."
The nurse said he had been sleeping in a hospital safe room around 2 a.m. local time when he woke to the sound of a nearby explosion.
"Over the past week we'd heard bombings and explosions before, but always further away. This one was different, close and loud," Zoltan Jacs said.
As staff tried to figure out what was happening, more bombs fell. After "20 or 30 minutes," Zoltan Jacs said he heard someone call his name. An emergency room nurse staggered in with "massive trauma" to his arm.
"He was covered in blood, with wounds all over his body," Zoltan Jacs said.
"In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds." Lajos Zoltan Jecs, MSF Nurse
Staff ran about trying to assess damage and find uninjured colleagues. The medical compound's office, Zoltan Jacs said, was full of wounded patients crying out "everywhere."
"The whole situation was very hard. We saw our colleagues dying," Zoltan Jecs said. "Our pharmacist ... I was just talking to him last night and planning the stocks, and then he died there in our office."
Some of the staff was in too much shock to do anything, Zoltan Jecs said. "Seeing adult men, your friends, crying uncontrollably -- that is not easy," he said.
"What is in my heart since this morning is that this is completely unacceptable," Zoltan Jecs concluded. "How can this happen? What is the benefit of this? Destroying a hospital and so many lives, for nothing. I cannot find words for this.”
The medical aid group announced Sunday afternoon it had withdrawn from Kunduz.
President Barack Obama issued a statement Saturday offering condolences and promising a full investigation by the Department of Defense. But MSF General Director Christopher Stokes demanded in a Sunday statement an independent investigation by an international body.
"Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient," Stokes said.
In a statement Saturday, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called the bombing "utterly tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal."
"The seriousness of the incident is underlined by the fact that, if established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime," he said.
MSF said it provided the GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to coalition and Afghan officials as recently as Tuesday to avoid any chance the hospital would be hit. In a Sunday statement, MSF staff denied that Taliban forces had fired from the hospital and used it as a "human shield."
MSF said that the gates of the hospital compound had been closed all night and that no one other than staff, patients or caretakers were inside at the time of the bombing.
"In any case, bombing a fully functioning hospital can never be justified," the MSF statement read.
Saturday's airstrike is not the first time Kunduz has suffered a major accidental bombing. Amid the war in Afghanistan in 2009, German forces under NATO command called in a controversial attack on Kunduz. The bombing, which would later be called a botched airstrike, left more than 170 dead, including roughly 100 civilians.
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