At least 19 people were killed and more than 50 injured in Tuesday’s attack on a military hospital in Kabul, the latest atrocity to rock Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power.
The Taliban’s rivals, ISIS, have claimed responsibility for the gun and bomb attack in the center of the capital.
Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), an affiliate of the terrorist group ISIS, said in a statement on its Telegram channels that “five fighters of the Islamic State group carried out coordinated attacks” on the vast site.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, “IS insurgents wanted to target civilians, doctors and patients in the hospital.” Taliban forces foiled the attack within 15 minutes.
As part of the response, he said, Taliban “special forces” were shot down on the roof of the hospital from a helicopter the group had seized from Afghanistan’s former US-backed government.
The attack began when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the facility’s entrance. The gunmen then entered the hospital premises, firing with their weapons.
“Nineteen bodies and about 50 injured have been taken to hospitals in Kabul,” a health ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A Taliban spokesman put the death toll down, but confirmed that two Taliban members, two women and a child, had been killed outside the hospital.
A woman trapped in hospital at the time of the attack told AFP how she and her friend felt “we thought we were going to die, our lives were coming to an end”.
“There was a bang at the door,” Rovana Davari, poet and lecturer, told AFP.
“Daesh came and started firing, we got trapped. We heard firing, glass breaking. We locked ourselves in a bathroom,” he said, referring to the local name of ISIS.
Amanudhin, 28, a sweeper at the hospital, pushed Maryam, an elderly, weak and partially sighted patient, away from the scene in a wheelchair.
“The explosion happened and after a while people started shouting ‘Daesh is here’,” he told AFP. “We heard a lot of firing.
“We were on the seventh floor and locked ourselves in a room. There were injured people everywhere. Broken glass.”
They hid until Taliban members came and found them: “They were special forces, professionals, they broke the door and came in.”
go ‘room to room’
The Taliban spent 20 years rebelling against the ousted US-backed government.
They now face a struggle to stabilize Afghanistan, which in recent weeks has been hit by a series of bloody attacks claimed by the local chapter of ISIS.
“All the attackers have been killed. The attack was started by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle who blew himself up at the entrance of the hospital,” a Taliban media official said.
He had earlier said in a statement that the two blasts were targeted at the hospital area.
AFP staff in the city heard a second explosion about 30 minutes after the first one.
“I first heard a huge explosion from the checkpoint. We were asked to go to safe rooms. I also heard gunshots,” a doctor at Sardar Mohammad Dawood Khan Hospital told AFP.
The doctor said, “I can still hear the gunshots inside the hospital building. I feel the attackers going from room to room… like the first attack happened.”
Ambulance faster than Kabuli
The hospital, which treats wounded soldiers from both the Taliban and former Afghan security forces, was first attacked in 2017, when gunmen posed as medical personnel in an hour-long siege, killing at least 30 people. .
ISIS has claimed four mass casualties since the Taliban takeover on August 15, including suicide bombings targeting Shia Muslim mosques. The group considers Shia Muslims to be heretics.
The 2017 attack was also claimed by ISIS, and the Taliban denied responsibility.
Images shared on social media on Tuesday showed black smoke rising in the air after the explosions, the first of which occurred around 1:00 pm (0830 GMT).
Roads close to the heavily fortified “Green Zone” where many former Western embassy buildings were located were closed to traffic and Taliban guards intensified search operations.
The US State Department condemned the attack, spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet Tuesday evening.
“We mourn those killed and offer our condolences to their loved ones,” he said. “Targeting medical professionals and patients is abhorrent and has no justification.”