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Doctors Without Borders hospital bombed in U.S. airstrike

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Fires burn in part of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike. 

At least 19 people, including 12 Doctors Without Borders staffers and three child patients, were killed Saturday morning when an airstrike blasted an Afghan hospital.

American officials confirmed a U.S. attack on war-torn Kunduz “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility” and that the lethal attack was under investigation.

More than three dozen others were injured in the 2:10 a.m. bombing that reduced the Medecins Sans Frontieres-operated hospital to burning rubble. Another 30 were reported missing.

The nine staffers killed were all local residents.

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Afghan Doctors Without Borders surgeons work in an undamaged part of the MSF hospital in Kunduz after three operating rooms were destroyed in an air strike.

“I managed to escape after the attack but I know that most of the staff and even some of the patients are missing,” Dr. Adil Akbar said after fleeing from the flames. The blasts struck the emergency room and operating center, he said.

Doctors Without Borders released a statement saying the bombing continued for 30 minutes after American and Afghan authorities were notified they were targeting a medical facility.

The humanitarian group “urgently seeks clarity on exactly what took place and how this terrible event could have happened.”

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Afghan guards stand at the gate of Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan.

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Another picture released by Doctors Without Borders shows the organization’s hospital burning in the early morning hours after the airstrike.

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Afghan staff at the Doctors Without Borders hospital react following the bombing. The facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running “beyond capacity” during recent fighting that saw the Taliban seize control of the provincial capital for several days. 

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The whereabouts of their facility — holding more than 100 patients and 80 staffers during the blasts — was repeatedly shared with U.S. forces in the months leading up to the attack to avoid a deadly situation like the one that unfolded overnight.

US defense chief Ash Carter confirmed US forces were fighting alongside the Afghan army when the airstrike occurred.

Afghan Ministry of Defense officials claim Taliban fighters were using people inside the hospital as “human shields” when a rogue rocket fell close to the facility.

An Afghan child receives treatment at the Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, hospital in the northern city of Kunduz, after being wounded in a fight between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, in this May file photo.SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

An Afghan child receives treatment at the Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, hospital in the northern city of Kunduz, after being wounded in a fight between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, in this May file photo.

An air strike on the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Saturday left three Doctors Without Borders staff dead.SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

An air strike on the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Saturday left three Doctors Without Borders staff dead.

The MSF facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running "beyond capacity" in recent days of fighting that saw the Taliban seize control of the provincial capital for several days.SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

The MSF facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running “beyond capacity” in recent days of fighting that saw the Taliban seize control of the provincial capital for several days.

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President Obama offered his sympathies to airstrike victims, but stopped short of placing blame pending a Department of Defense probe.

“I have asked the Department of Defense to keep me apprised of the investigation and expect a full accounting of the facts and circumstances,” he said in a statement Saturday night.

“Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to all of the civilians affected by this incident, their families, and loved ones,” Obama added.

United Nations officials led an outcry against the early morning attack bluntly suggesting the airstrike “may amount to a war crime.”

“Hospitals accommodating patients and medical personnel may never be the object of attack, and international humanitarian law also prohibits the use of medical facilities for military purposes,” said Haysom, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N.’s human rights chief, echoed what could be damning consequences for the United States if its involvement in the Kunduz bombing is proven.

“This event is utterly tragic, unexcusable and possibly even criminal,” Zeid wrote in a statement.

The Red Cross also condemned the horrific carnage in a building meant to save lives.

Afghan officials asserted that helicopter gunships returned fire on the 10 to 15 Taliban terrorists inside the hospital.

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A file photo from Thursday shows the Kunduz hospital that caught fire early Saturday in the city where Afghan forces are fighting to take back control from the Taliban with U.S. help.

Video from the Associated Press showed automatic rifles and a machine gun pointing out from the hospital windowsills as the compound burned.

“All of the terrorists were killed, but we also lost doctors,” said Interior Minister Sediq Sediqqi. Eighty staff members were brought from the hospital to safety, he added.

Doctors Without Borders said they have treated 394 people wounded in fighting since the Taliban captured control of Kunduz earlier this week.

Afghan forces, back by U.S. airstrikes, launched a Thursday counterattack to reclaim the battle-scarred city — a strategic locale on the highway to Kabul.

The American Embassy in Kabul issued a statement praising the hospital staff as “heroic.”

“The U.S. Embassy mourns for the individuals and families affected by the tragic incident at the Doctors without Borders hospital, and for all those suffering from the violence in Kunduz,” it read.

The fighting continued unabated in the northern Afghan city after the deadly attack.  

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lmcshane@nydailynews.com

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