Doctors Without Borders pulls out of Afghan attack hospital


Kabul (AFP)

Doctors Without Borders has pulled out of a hospital in the Afghan capital where gunmen last month killed 25 people, including mothers, in a horrific attack on a maternity ward.

The organisation, which specialises in medical assistance in hostile environments, said it feared being the target of another attack after the raid on Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul on May 12.

Three gunmen stormed the facility in a brazen daylight assault that triggered international outrage and shocked a nation already used to decades of war.

Sixteen of those killed were mothers who were "systematically shot dead" in a raid that lasted for hours, said Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which ran the maternity ward.

The facility was one of MSF's biggest projects worldwide and was home to almost 16,000 deliveries in 2019 alone, the group said.

But on Monday MSF said it had decided to end all its activities at the hospital over fears of being targeted again.

"The decision comes with the understanding that while no information has emerged about the perpetrators or motive of the assault, mothers, babies and health staff were its deliberate target and similar attacks may repeat in the future," it said in a statement.

No group claimed the attack, but President Ashraf Ghani pinned the blame on the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said IS was responsible.

"We were aware that our presence in Dasht-e-Barchi carried risks, but we just couldn't believe that someone would take advantage of the absolute vulnerability of women about to give birth to exterminate them and their babies," said MSF Director General Thierry Allafort-Duverger.

"Higher walls and thicker security doors won’t prevent such horrific assaults from happening again.

The hospital is in an impoverished neighbourhood of the capital largely dominated by the Shiite Hazara community, and its closure is expected to affect more than a million people, MSF said.

The attack on the hospital was not the first targeting MSF in Afghanistan.

More than 70 MSF personnel and patients admitted into MSF health care programmes have been killed in Afghanistan over the past 16 years, it said.

In October 2015, an MSF hospital in the northern province of Kunduz was destroyed by a US airstrike in which 42 people were killed.