Gunmen disguised as police attacked a hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday, 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. The attack on the funeral was claimed by Daesh.
The Taliban, Afghanistan’s main insurgency group which says it has halted attacks on cities under a US troop withdrawal deal, denied involvement in both.
Babies wrapped in blankets
Heavily armed forces were seen carrying babies wrapped in blankets away from the scene, as the clearance operation continued.
The facility, which has a large maternity ward, is located in the west of the city, home to the capital’s minority Shia Hazara community – a frequent target of the Daesh terrorist group.
The flare-up in violence comes as Afghanistan grapples with myriad crises including a rise in militant operations across the country and a surge in coronavirus infections.
A paediatrician who fled the hospital told AFP news agency he heard a loud explosion at the entrance of the building.
“The hospital was full of patients and doctors, there was total panic inside,” he said, asking not to be named.
The maternity services at the hospital are supported by humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
“Hospitals and health workers must not be attacked. We call on all sides to stop attacking hospitals and health workers,” said deputy health minister in the city, Waheed Majroh.
Funeral of police officer hit
Around an hour later, a suicide bomber killed at least 15 people at the funeral of a local police commander in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province, according to provincial spokesman Ataullah Khogyani.
The attacker detonated his explosives in the middle of the ceremony.
Zaher Adel, spokesman for the government hospital in Jalalabad, earlier said 12 bodies had arrived from the blast site and more than 50 people were being treated for injuries.
Amir Mohammad, who was wounded in the blast, said thousands of people had gathered for the funeral, an event which often draws huge crowds in Afghanistan.
“The jihadist Abdallah al Ansari hit Afghan security forces and militia allied to Nangarhar, exploding his (suicide) belt … (and) killing and wounding 100 non-believers,” Daesh said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.
The terrorist group made no mention of a separate attack that took place against a hospital in Kabul.
After the attacks, President Ashraf Ghani ordered the country’s security forces to resume offensive operations against the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
“I order all the security forces to end their active defence position, return to offensive postures, and resume their operations against the enemy,” Ghani said in a televised address.
Pakistan, Turkey, EU condemned the twin attacks.
Pompeo urges Taliban, Kabul to unite in probe
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday called on the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban to cooperate to bring to justice the perpetrators of attacks.
Pompeo in a statement called the attack on the hospital in Kabul, which housed a maternity ward, “an act of sheer evil, “and he noted the Taliban denied responsibility for that attack and a suicide bombing on the funeral in eastern Afghanistan.
Offensives against Daesh
The violence comes just a day after four roadside bombs exploded in a northern district of Kabul, wounding four civilians including a child.
The bombings were later claimed by Daesh, according to the SITE intelligence group.
They were just the latest in a string of Daesh attacks on the capital.
In March, at least 25 people were killed by a gunman at a Sikh temple in Kabul, which was later claimed by the group.
Daesh is also responsible for an infamous attack in March 2017 on one of the country’s largest hospitals, when gunmen disguised as doctors stormed the Kabul building and killed dozens.
In recent months, the terrorist group has suffered mounting setbacks after being hunted by US and Afghan forces as well as Taliban offensives targeting their fighters, but it still retains the ability to launch major assaults on urban centres.
The Taliban have largely refrained from launching large attacks on Afghan cities since February when they signed a landmark withdrawal deal with the US meant to pave the way for peace talks with the Kabul government.
Under the agreement, the Taliban promised not to target forces from the US-led coalition, but made no such pledge toward Afghan troops and have stepped up attacks in the provinces.