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Newborns die in hospital attack

16 killed as gunmen disguised as police storm Kabul maternity ward

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Rescue mission: An Afghan security guard carries a newborn baby from a Kabul hospital, the site of an attack by gunmen. Photo: STR/AFP

Rescue mission: An Afghan security guard carries a newborn baby from a Kabul hospital, the site of an attack by gunmen. Photo: STR/AFP

AFP via Getty Images

Rescue mission: An Afghan security guard carries a newborn baby from a Kabul hospital, the site of an attack by gunmen. Photo: STR/AFP

Gunmen disguised as police attacked a hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul yesterday, killing 16 people including two newborn babies from a maternity clinic run by the international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders.

In a separate attack the same day, a suicide bomber struck the funeral of a police commander, attended by government officials and a member of parliament, in the eastern province of Nangahar, killing at least 24 people and injuring 68. Authorities said that toll could rise.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack.

The Taliban, Afghanistan's main Islamist insurgency group which says it has halted attacks on cities under a US troop withdrawal deal, denied involvement in both.

The so-called Islamic State militant group operates in Nangahar and has carried out a number of high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months. On Monday, security forces arrested its regional leader in the capital.

The violence, as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic, risks derailing movement towards US-brokered peace talks between the Taliban and an Afghan government long sceptical of the insurgents' renunciation of attacks.

Ministry of Interior photos showed two young children lying dead inside the hospital. An image showed a woman who had been killed lying on the ground still holding tightly to her baby, who a nurse in the unit confirmed had survived and had been moved to an intensive care unit at another hospital.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks and said he had ordered the military to switch to offensive mode rather than the defensive stance it had adopted as the US withdraws troops and tries to broker the talks.

"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 defence mode to an offensive one and to start their operations against the enemies," he said in a televised speech.

Meanwhile, national security advisor Hamdullah Mohib said on Twitter: "There seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in peace talks".

In a statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he condemned "the two horrific terrorist attacks" in the strongest terms and noted the Taliban had denied responsibility.

"To attack infants and women in labour in the sanctuary of a hospital is an act of sheer evil," he said, adding that the lack of an Afghan peace deal left the country vulnerable to such attacks.

Mr Pompeo also described the stalled US-backed peace effort, which planned for intra-Afghan peace talks to begin on March 10 but have yet to occur, as "a critical opportunity for Afghans to... build a united front against the menace of terrorism."

The Pentagon declined to comment on Mr Ghani's stated intent to restart offensive operations, saying only that the US military continued to reserve the right to defend Afghan security forces if they are attacked by the Taliban.

The Kabul attack began in the morning when at least three gunmen wearing police uniforms entered the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, throwing grenades and shooting, government officials said. Security forces had killed the attackers by the afternoon.

"The attackers were shooting at anyone in this hospital without any reason. It's a government hospital, and a lot of people bring in their women and children for treatment," said Ramazan Ali, a nearby vendor who saw the start of the attack.

The 100-bed government-run hospital hosted a maternity clinic run by Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières.

Irish Independent