An Afghanistan hospital of the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders was raided by government troops who fired weapons in the air, threatened and assaulted several staff members, the group said on Friday.
The group condemned the “violent intrusion,” in which troops raided the facility on Wednesday and arrested three patients who were being treated there, calling it a breach of the Geneva Conventions.
Following the attack, Doctors Without Borders said that they temporarily suspended work at the Kunduz facility in the country’s northeast, which meant that patients were no longer being admitted to the main trauma hospital in northeast Afghanistan.
“This serious event puts at risk the lives of thousands of people who rely on the center for urgent care,” Dr. Bart Janssens, the organization’s director of operations, said in a statement. “We are shocked by this incident.”
However, Colonel Nader, the local army brigade commander, said he did not believe the army was behind the incident. “Afghan National Army Special Forces have neither raided any hospital nor arrested anyone whatsoever,” he said, according to the New York Times. “We completely deny that Afghan National Army had any involvement at all.”
Civilians who are wounded in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan often turn to trauma hospitals run by non-government organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and the Italian group Emergency. These hospitals usually refuse entry to those with weapons, and provide treatment to people from both sides of the conflict. “We never take sides,” Janssens said. “Our doctors treat all people according to their medical needs.”
As the conflict between Afghan security forces and local insurgent groups drags on, the medical aid offered by these organizations has become increasingly critical. Last year, over 10,000 civilian casualties from the conflict were recorded, the highest since 2007 when the United Nations began keeping records in Afghanistan. The number is expected to continue rising as the fighting between security troops and insurgents grows fiercer.
The organization also said that this was the first armed intrusion at its Kunduz facility since it opened four years ago. "However, we have always managed to resolve problems through dialogue," the group reportedly said. "Up until now, we have been able to ensure a safe, neutral space, in which staff can provide medical care to our patients. We're therefore extremely concerned by such a violent intrusion into the hospital."
The organization has been operating in Afghanistan for 30 years, although it withdrew for a five-year period over security concerns after five staff members were shot to death in the country in 2004.
Recently, several attacks against aid workers have been reported in the country. Last month, 9 aid workers from Czech-based organization People in Need were killed in an attack in northern Afghanistan, which came just weeks after 14 people, mostly foreigners, were killed in a Taliban attack on a Kabul guesthouse frequented by aid workers.
The raids are often carried out by Taliban and other insurgent groups, despite official policies that condemn attacks on humanitarian workers.