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Afghan president orders troops to resume 'offensive' stance after deadly attacks

Afghan security forces stand guard outside Dasht-e-Barchi Hospital which came under attack in Kabul, Afghanistan May 12, 2020.
Afghan security forces stand guard outside Dasht-e-Barchi Hospital which came under attack in Kabul, Afghanistan May 12, 2020. REUTERS - MOHAMMAD ISMAIL

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered the country's security forces Tuesday to resume offensive operations against the Taliban and other insurgent groups, following two separate attacks that killed dozens of people.

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"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.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's suicide bombing at a funeral in the eastern province of Nangarhar. No group has yet claimed responsibility for a separate attack on a maternity hospital in the capital Kabul but Ghani blamed the Taliban.

"Today we witnessed terrorist attacks by the Taliban and Daesh groups on a hospital in Kabul and a funeral in Nangarhar, as well as other attacks in the country," Ghani said, using the Arabic abbreviation for the IS group.

Earlier Tuesday, gunmen stormed a maternity hospital in the Afghan capital, killing at least 16 people – including newborns and nurses – as a suicide blast at a funeral in the country’s restive east left two dozen mourners dead.

Three gunmen held siege to the Barchi National Hospital in Kabul for hours after the early-morning attack before security forces killed them in a clearance operation, the interior ministry said. 

The 100-bed government-run facility is supported by Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health.

Heavily armed security forces were seen carrying infants away from the scene – at least one wrapped in a blood-soaked blanket.

"The fatalities also include mothers and nurses," interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said.

Some 15 people were wounded and more than 100 – including three foreign nationals – were rescued, he said.

The hospital is located in the west of the city, home to the capital's minority Shiite Hazara community – a frequent target of hardline Sunni militants from the Islamic State group.

Tuesday's attack was the latest assault on the country's already stretched health sector, with facilities and medical personnel frequently caught in the crossfire during decades of war in the country.

"We call on all sides to stop attacking hospitals and health workers," said deputy health minister in the city, Waheed Majroh.

Around an hour after the Kabul assault, a suicide bomber killed at least 24 people at the funeral of a local police commander in eastern Nangarhar province, according to provincial spokesman Ataullah Khogyani.

The attacker detonated explosives in the middle of the ceremony.

Amir Mohammad, who was wounded in the blast, said thousands of people had gathered for the funeral, an event that often draws huge crowds in Afghanistan.

The Taliban denied involvement in either attack.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday called the attacks "appalling" and noted that the Taliban, who signed a February 29 accord with the United States, denied responsibility.

 "The Taliban and the Afghan government should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice," Pompeo said in a statement.

The latest violence comes as Afghanistan grapples with myriad crises, including a rise in militant operations across the country, a surge in coronavirus infections, and a reduction in foreign military support.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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