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Doctors Without Borders Hospital Bombing: Witnesses Recount Strikes

Eyewitnesses describe the apparent U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
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KABUL, Afghanistan — By the time Saifullah reached the Doctors Without Borders hospital, he had been transporting his wounded family members on donkey and horseback for six hours in search of medical treatment.

Not long after they arrived at the charity's facility in the Afghan battleground city of Kunduz, it would be devastated by "sustained bombing" from a U.S. warplane that killed 22 people including staff members, patients and children.

Saifullah's brother, one of his sons and a nephew were killed as they lay in their hospital beds, he said.

"All of a sudden, we heard loud explosions that shook the entire building, and there were all shouts all over, and everyone was running up and down," the 38-year-old told NBC News.

Saifullah, who did not give his last name, said he set off for the hospital Friday after two rockets hit his house. His 70-year-old mother and one of his brothers were killed the attack in the Chardara district of Kunduz province. One of his sons, a daughter and a nephew were injured, Saifullah said.

Carrying his wounded relatives on horses and donkeys, he and his family began the six-hour journey — crossing multiple front lines — and arrived late that night at the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, which is also known as Médecins Sans Frontières.

Related: Will Taliban Invasion Keep U.S. Boots on Ground in Afghanistan?

His injured family members were rushed into an operating room and the rest were told to stay in a large waiting area. Despite the sound of gunfire and explosions around the building, they fell asleep.

Hours later, the bombardment began.

"There are no words for how terrible it was"

Saifullah was able to escape and hide behind some shops across the street.

"The bombing continued three or four times for about an hour and then stopped," he said, speaking outside a hospital in Kabul where his surviving families members were being treated Sunday. "But we did not leave our hiding place and could see parts of the building on fire and heavy firing all around."

Between the rocket attack on his home and the apparent U.S. airstrike, Saifullah lost five family members over the course of several hours.

A third brother lost his leg in the hospital bombing, and another of his sons, 5-year-old Fayaz, and his wife received injuries to their necks.

A nurse at the Doctors Without Borders hospital described the bombardment.

"There are no words for how terrible it was," Lajos Zoltan told the charity. "In the intensive care unit, six patients were burning in their beds. A patient was there on the operating table, dead, in the middle of the destruction."

Another patient, who identified himself only as Karim, had been brought to the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz having been injured in what he said was another bombing by "airplanes."

"The hospital was bombed and most of the patients and doctors were killed," Karim said from a hospital bed in Puli Khumri, 50 miles south of Kunduz, after being moved there. "Some relatives brought me here and I am here now for the past two days and don’t know anything about my family."

Atta Mohammad, a community representative of an area in Kunduz city, was also at the hospital.

"They bombed the Doctors Without Borders hospital, which was the only hospital in Kunduz helping people," he said. "When the hospital is bombed by government itself then where is safe?"

Doctors Without Borders has called for an independent investigation into the incident." The charity has left the city as it said the hospital was "not functional anymore."

On Monday, the top commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan said the airstrike was requested by Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire. General John F. Campbell said he was correcting an initial U.S. statement that said the airstrike had been in response to threats against U.S. forces.

"If errors were committed, we will acknowledge them," Campbell added.

President Barack Obama has offered his condolences to the victims and said he will be kept updated on any developments into the investigation of the bombing.

Taliban militants captured most of the city of 300,000 people last week but two days before the deadly hospital airstrike Afghan officials insisted they were in "full control" of Kunduz.