Siege on Afghan hospital maternity ward leaves more than a dozen, including babies, dead

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Gunmen sieged a hospital in Kabul Tuesday morning where Doctors Without Borders runs a maternity clinic, killing at least 16 people, including two newborn babies, according to reports.

More than a dozen others were wounded in the attack at the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital located in a mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhood in Afghanistan’s capital. At least four armed men dressed in police uniforms stormed the building and began throwing grenades and shooting, The Guardian reported.

Neither the Taliban nor the Islamic State immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. It remained unclear why the hospital was targetted.

Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said that more than 80 women and babies were evacuated by Afghan security forces as the firefight got underway, according to the Associated Press. Several doctors trapped on the upper floors of the hospital jumped to an adjacent building to escape the gunfire.

Black smoke rose into the sky over the hospital in Kabul’s Dashti Barchi, a neighborhood home to the Hazara community, a Shiite Muslim minority, who have suffered past attacks by Islamic State militants.

The 100-bed hospital has a maternity clinic on the first floor run by the international humanitarian medical non-governmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

Four gunmen had been shot dead by Afghan security forces by the afternoon, Reuters reported.

Beyond the Afghan capital, a separate spat of violence unfolded Tuesday in the eastern Nangarhar province, where a suicide bomber targeted a funeral ceremony, killing at least 24 and wounding at least 69 others, Reuters reported.

Mourners had gathered in the Khewa district to honor Shaikh Akram, a local pro-government militia commander and former warlord who had died of a heart attack on Monday night, Attahullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told the AP.

The dead included Abdullah Lala Jan, a provincial council member. His father, Noor Agha, a lawmaker, was wounded in the attack. Another provincial council member, Zabihullah Zemarai, said dozens of people, including, lawmakers, provincial council members and locals had gathered for the funeral.

The Taliban, Afghanistan’s main Islamic insurgency group, denied involvement in either attack.

“The Taliban and the Afghan government should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “As long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism.”

Nonetheless, President Ashraf Ghani said in a televised speech Tuesday that he was ordering Afghan forces to switch from a defensive approach to “offensive mode” against the Taliban and other militant groups in the country as the violence threatens to derail peace talks between the United States, the Taliban and the Afghan government, Reuters reported.

“In order to provide security for public places and to thwart attacks and threats from the Taliban and other terrorist groups, I am ordering Afghan security forces to switch from an active defense mode to an offensive one and to start their operations against the enemies,” Ghani said.

Hamdullah Mohib, the government’s national security advisor, tweeted Tuesday “If the Taliban cannot control the violence, or their sponsors have now subcontracted their terror to other entities —which was one of our primary concerns from the beginning — then there seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in ‘peace talks’.”

A deal signed between the U.S. and the Taliban in February envisages the start of talks among key Afghan figures, including government representatives, and the Taliban. Relentless attacks have also left Afghan authorities ill-prepared to face the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 4,900 people in the country and killed at least 127.

No organization claimed responsibility for the third grim killing Tuesday in the eastern Khost province, where a bomb planted in a cart in a market left a child dead and 10 others wounded.

The IS, meanwhile, claimed it was behind a spate of attacks on Monday in Kabul when four bombs, one placed under a garbage bin and the other three by the roadside, went off in the northern part of the city, wounding four civilians, including a child.

The Afghan intelligence service said in a statement later Monday that the agency has arrested an IS leader in the region, Zia-ul Haq, also known as Shaikh Abu Omer Al-Khorasani.

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