KABUL, Afghanistan — Gunmen stormed a hospital in the west of Kabul on Tuesday, killing two newborns and at least 11 other people while triggering a battle with security forces, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said.
Another 15 were injured in the attack, officials said.
Afghan special forces wrested control of the hospital, which includes a busy maternity section, away from the militants after killing at least three attackers, Interior Ministry spokesperson Tariq Arian said in a statement. At least 100 people, including mothers, nurses and foreign aid workers, were evacuated from the hospital, officials said.
Several doctors had leapt to an adjacent building after at least three attackers wearing police uniforms entered, throwing grenades and shooting, government officials said.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack. The militants have been behind a number of attacks even as the United States tried to usher in Taliban-government peace talks after signing a troop withdrawal agreement in February.
The U.S. charge d’affaires to Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, deplored the “barbaric attack” and condemned targeting those already suffering and unable to defend themselves.
“Hospitals are centers of compassion,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Dasht-e-Barchi Hospital, a 100-bed government-run facility, is supported by the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
The international aid organization runs a maternity clinic at the hospital, a spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders told NBC News.
“We are aware of the ongoing attack on the MSF-supported Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul. The Afghan Special Forces are at the scene. For now, our priority is the safety of our patients and staff,” a spokeswoman said by email.
According to the charity’s website, it runs a “busy maternity service” at the public hospital, in “one of the poorest neighborhoods in Afghanistan’s capital.” Cases include complications around childbirth such as postpartum hemorrhage, preeclampsia, and placental abruption.
The neighborhood is home to many members of Afghanistan’s Hazara community, a mostly Shiite Muslim minority that has been attacked by the Islamic State militant group in the past.
Meanwhile, a separate grim killing was also unfolding in Jalalabad province, east of the capital, where at least 24 people were killed and 68 injured during an explosion at a funeral ceremony of a police commander in Nangarhar, Attaullah Khogyani, a provincial spokesman, said in a written statement.
Two provincial council members were among those killed in the attack, in which the Taliban has also denied any involvement.
Following the attacks, President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday that he had asked Afghan security forces to switch from “defensive” to “offensive” mode.
The “Taliban have increased their attacks, today at the government hospital in Kabul and in [the] funeral in Jalalabad people witnessed Taliban and Daesh terror,” he said, referring to the Islamic State group by its Arabic acronym, without specifying which group he blamed for which attack.
ISIS later claimed responsibility for the Nangarhar attack, according to Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm.
The Taliban denied they were responsible for either attack.
A spate of bloody attacks has taken place in the capital in recent months claimed by the Islamic State group, which first appeared in eastern Afghanistan around 2014 and battles the Taliban, as well as government and foreign forces.
On Monday, security forces said they had arrested three senior Islamic State members including a regional leader.
Last week, security forces killed or arrested several members of an Islamic State cell that authorities said was responsible for several high-profile attacks in Kabul, including one on a Sikh temple in March, that killed 25 people.
Roadside blasts in the capital Monday, which wounded four civilians, were also claimed by the group.
The Taliban have said they are holding back from attacking urban centers and their operations are aimed at government security forces.
The U.S. military is in the midst of a drawdown in Afghanistan. In early March, it began decreasing its total footprint from more than 12,000 to 8,600 over 135 days.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a weak public health system. President Donald Trump is also concerned that U.S. troops in Afghanistan could be vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak there, officials said last month.
Trump, who campaigned in 2016 with a promise to end wars like the one in Afghanistan, has frequently expressed frustration with progress there since his early days in office. In March, he dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Kabul to deliver a harsh message in hopes of salvaging a peace deal to ultimately end the war in Afghanistan.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Mushtaq Yusufzai contributed.