child in hospital - unicef pic

Once More, Civilians Bear the Brunt of this War

A collection of quotes from attacked medical professionals in war zones

by Buddy Bell and Kathy Kelly


Last year on the early morning of October 3, a Doctors Without Borders trauma center hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was bombarded by planes flying overhead. Four days prior, hospital staff had shared its GPS coordinates of the trauma center buildings and facilities with U.S. authorities. On that horrible day, it was a U.S. Air Force gunship which attacked the hospital. According to staff who frantically called U.S. and Afghan officials, the aerial bombing raids continued for half an hour more. In the words of Doctors without Borders head of programs, Heman Nagarathnam:

The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round. There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds.

Shrapnel hit Khalid Ahmed, a young pharmacist, in his spine as he tried to run for safety. He survived and was beginning to walk again, with assistance, when he spoke to Afghan Peace Volunteers about his memory of that day.

I was sleeping when the bombing began at about 2 a.m. I went to see what was happening, and to my horror, I saw that the ICU was on fire, the flames appearing to shoot 10 meters up into the night sky. Some patients were burning in their beds.

I was petrified. It was so frightening. The bombing and firing continued, and following after the bombs were showers of ‘laser-like flashes’ which were flammable, catching and spreading the fire.

The screams of the dying filled Lajos Zoltan with dread: Speaking of the 14 staff members who were among the 42 killed that day, Lajoz, a nurse, said:

These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people… and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

What is in my heart since this morning is that this is completely unacceptable. 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.

Surgeon Mohamed Safi Sadiqi:

It was my team’s turn to do the operations— we had scheduled about 40, and when the first bomb struck, I believe we were operating on the 30th or maybe 32nd person.

I was operating on a patient who’d been hit in the leg by a bullet. The injury was not an immediate threat to his life— he could have left the hospital if we had completed the operation. I was almost finished when the bombing started.

The lights went out across the hospital. Suddenly a big wooden panel from the ceiling dropped on to the patient on the table, right on top of him. We all ran. I went through the closest door, into the sterilization room. Some people who chose other routes didn’t make it. There were just seconds to escape before more bombs dropped.

It all happened in a very short time, so it was hard to tell what was going on. It was very panicky. It was a matter of life and death.

The airstrikes would eventually kill 14 staff members, 24 patients and four relatives of patients (New York Times, Dec. 13), prompting the international community to call for an independent investigation. On October 15, a U.S. tank broke its way into the grounds of the destroyed hospital.

Their unannounced and forced entry damaged property, destroyed potential evidence and caused stress and fear.

The impunity claimed  by the U.S. in this incident may have emboldened other countries already conducting wars of their own. On January 11, 2016, Saudi Arabia’s air force bombed a Yemeni hospital, killing five people and injuring ten after buildings collapsed. Doctors without Borders said it was the third attack on one of its health facilities in Yemen in recent months. Raquel Ayora, Director of Operations:

We strongly condemn this incident that confirms a worrying pattern of attacks to essential medical services and express our strongest outrage as this will leave a very fragile population without health care for weeks. Once more it is civilians that bear the brunt of this war.

On February 15, a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in northern Syria took a direct hit that pancaked its three stories into one, entombing and killing 25 people, including nine staff members. The hospital was in a location often attacked by Syrian and Russian jets. A staff member of the destroyed hospital, Dr. Saoud:

I don’t know how a pilot presses the button to bomb a hospital. It’s weird. How does he sleep? How does he eat? And then he comes back and bombs the people who are trying to help the victims. Wherever I went, there was bombing.

Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion incorporated laments sung by psalmists for hundreds of years. Why must innocents suffer?  Why are we forsaken?  The victims of hospital bombings must surely feel forsaken. Here is Khalid Ahmed’s simple plea:

I want my story to be heard.