Militants carried out a brutal attack on the Medecins Sans Frontières maternity ward in Dast-e-Barchi hospital, located in Kabul, Afghanistan. The ward was stormed by three gunmen disguised as police officers at 10:00 AM on Tuesday. The attack has resulted in 24 fatalities, including two newborn babies. Shockwaves were sent throughout Afghanistan in response to this attack, particularly due to its deliberate targeting of newborn babies and mothers in their most vulnerable state. Groups and individuals worldwide have condemned the attack and it has served to sever any remaining hope surrounding the prospect of Afghanistan moving towards peace in the foreseeable future.
On the same day, there was a suicide bombing at a funeral in Nangahar province which resulted in 133 casualties. A group connected to ISIL issued a statement claiming responsibility for the suicide bombing, yet no group has claimed responsibility for the attack at the hospital. The Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility; however, it has been reported that Afghan authorities have made connections between the two attacks and rising Taliban violence in other areas of Afghanistan. As a response, the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, instructed his armed forces to resume offensive operations towards the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor, Hamdullah Mohib, proclaimed on Twitter: “This is not peace, nor its beginnings.” He further added that there was “little point in continuing to engage Taliban in peace talks.” These attacks therefore serve as another significant setback to progress in line with the recently signed peace deal between the United States and the Taliban in February.
On Thursday, the United States issued a statement indicating that they believed ISIL was responsible for the attack. This position is in contrast to that taken by the Kabul government, who shifted blame to the Taliban. The U.S. Special Representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, argued that ISIL was responsible for the attack due to their opposition of a Taliban peace agreement. The U.S. position therefore urges the Kabul government to persevere with strained peace efforts with the Taliban. However, it is unclear as to whether the statement will affect President Ghani’s instructions to the military regarding the group: to switch to “offensive” mode.
The especially brutal nature of the hospital attack has given rise to deep shock globally and has been vehemently condemned. Medecins Sans Frontières stated: “We condemn this outrageous attack, this senseless act of cowardly, destructive violence.” Amnesty International additionally issued a statement clearly highlighting the severity and the implications of the attack: “The unconscionable war crimes in Afghanistan today… must awaken the world to the horrors civilians continue to face.”
The deliberate targeting of infants has left the world in utter disbelief. Deborah Lyons, the Head of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, highlighted this widespread sentiment. On Twitter, she condemned the attack: “Who attacks newborn babies and new mothers? Who does this? The most innocent of innocents? Why?” Dr Hassan Kamel, Director of Ataturk Children’s Hospital in Kabul, told Al Jazeera: “In my more than 20 years career, I have not witnessed such a horrific, brutal act.”
This targeted attack on some of society’s most vulnerable and innocent has shaken both Afghanistan, and the international community, to their core. It illustrates how deeply rooted the political crisis in the country remains. Until a solution is found, brutal attacks of this nature will only continue to increase.
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