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story.lead_photo.caption A man cries after Tuesday’s attack at a maternity hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. More photos at (AP/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Militants stormed a maternity hospital Tuesday in the western part of Kabul, setting off an hourslong shootout with the police and killing 16 people, including two newborns, their mothers and an unspecified number of nurses, Afghan officials said.

While the battle was underway, Afghan security forces struggled to evacuate the facility carrying out babies and frantic young mothers, according to images posted by the Interior Ministry. The clinic is supported by the aid group, Doctors Without Borders, according to UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency.

But the day's violence extended beyond Kabul. A suicide bomber in eastern Nangarhar province -- a hotbed of the Islamic State group -- targeted a funeral ceremony, killing 24 people and wounding 68. And in eastern Khost province, a bomb planted in a cart in a market killed a child and wounded 10 people.

The attacks took place during a surge in violence in Afghanistan, nearly three months after the United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal.

Near-daily attacks have also left Afghan authorities ill-prepared to face the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 4,900 people in the country and killed at least 127.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul, where both the Taliban and ISIS frequently target Afghan military and security forces, as well as civilians. The Taliban denied they were involved.

In response to Tuesday's violence, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered Afghan forces to resume attacks on the Taliban, switching from "active defensive" footing to "offensive" mode -- in a move that could further jeopardize the peace deal.

"The Taliban have not given up fighting and killing Afghans, instead they have increased their attacks on our countrymen and public places," despite repeated calls for a cease-fire, Ghani said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement condemned the attacks and noted that the Taliban denied responsibility and had also condemned both attacks.

"The Taliban and the Afghan government should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice," Pompeo said. "As long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism."

Gallery: Infants and mothers killed in attack on Kabul hospital

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Soon after the Kabul attack started, black smoke rose into the sky over the hospital in Dashti Barchi, a mostly Shiite neighborhood that has been the site of many past attacks by Islamic State militants. The Interior Ministry spokesman, Tareq Arian, said over 100 women and babies were evacuated from the building before it was over.

Arian said 15 others, including women, men and children were wounded in the attack. Three foreigners were among those safely evacuated, he said, without elaborating. It was unclear why the maternity hospital in Dashti Barchi, a 100-bed facility, was targeted.

By midafternoon, the ministry issued a statement saying three attackers had stormed the hospital and that one was shot and killed while the other two were still resisting arrest. The first floor of the clinic was cleared but the operation was ongoing to secure the rest of the building, the statement said.

A few hours later, the ministry released another statement, saying all three attackers were dead and that the operation was over.

Arian called the attack a "crime against all values." He added, "Any groups that are involved in such attacks are against all human and Islamic values."

The head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, Shaharzad Akbar, condemned the brutality of an attack targeting newborns. She wrote in a tweet, "Among their first experiences [is] being targeted in a war they & their mothers had no part in."

In the Nangarhar attack, the suicide bomber targeted the funeral in Khewa district of a local pro-government militia commander and former warlord who had died of a heart attack Monday night, said Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor.

The Interior Ministry said the final casualty toll was 24 killed and 68 wounded.

Also, no group claimed responsibility for the attack in Khost, which killed a child and wounded 10 people. The bomb was placed in a cart at a market and remotely detonated, said Adil Haidari, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Information for this article was contributed by Rahim Faiez, Tameem Akhgar, Kathy Gannon and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press; and by Sharif Hassan and Susannah George of The Washington Post.

A Section on 05/13/2020

Print Headline: Attackers kill newborns in Kabul


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