Afghan Troops ‘Go On Offensive’ After Deadly Attacks

President Ashraf Ghani says Afghanistan’s security forces will go on the offensive against the Taliban and other militant groups, following a violent day in which gunmen stormed a maternity hospital in Kabul and a suicide bomber targeted a funeral in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the May 12 attacks, in which more than 34 people were killed. The Taliban denied involvement.

Blaming the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) group for the two attacks and “other attacks in the country,” Ghani said in a televised address he was “ordering Afghan security forces to switch from an active defense mode to an offensive one and to start their operations against the enemies.”

He said a resumption of operations was necessary “to defend the country, safeguard our countrymen and infrastructure, and to repel attacks and threats by the Taliban and all other terrorist groups.”

Noting that the Taliban denied responsibility in the “horrific” attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo urged the Afghan government and Taliban to cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“As long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism,” he said in a statement.

The Taliban signed a landmark deal with the United States in Qatar in February meant to pave the way for direct talks between the militant group and the Western-backed government in Kabul after more than 18 years of war.

But the Taliban has ramped up attacks in recent weeks despite a pledge to reduce violence, while IS militants also continued targeting Afghan security forces and civilians.

Earlier in the day in Kabul, three gunmen attacked the state-run hospital in the city’s mostly Shi’ite neighborhood of Dasht-e Barchi, setting off an hours-long gunbattle with Afghan security forces.

The Interior Ministry said 14 people were killed in the attack, including two newborn babies, and 15 others were wounded.

Security forces eventually killed all three attackers, allowing the rescue of 80 women and infants from the hospital.

A witness, Jawad Amiri, told RFE/RL that one of the attackers “was wearing a military uniform and the other two were dressed as doctors.”

“They came to the main entrance and opened fire at people everywhere around. They killed many innocent people,” he added.

Afghan officials say work at the hospital was supported by the Nobel Prize-winning international nongovernmental charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

In a message sent to RFE/RL on May 12, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that the militant group was involved in the hospital attack.

IS has claimed responsibility for numerous other attacks against Shi’ite Muslims in the western part of Kabul.

Meanwhile, in the Khewa district of Nangarhar Province, the provincial governor’s spokesman, Attahullah Khogyani, told RFE/RL that 24 people were killed and more than 68 injured by a suicide bomber who attacked a funeral.

And in the southeastern province of Khost, a bomb planted in a cart at a market killed a child and wounded 10 people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for that attack.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan expressed “shock and revulsion” at the attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar, while EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell condemned them as “acts of evil” that showed “an appalling degree of inhumanity.”

Human Rights Watch said the assault on the Kabul hospital showed “blatant disregard for civilian life and is an apparent war crime.”

The New York-based watchdog said in a statement that attacks on health care in Afghanistan had increased “sharply” since 2017.

IS has claimed responsibility for a spate of violence in Kabul on May 11 that wounded a child and three adult civilians.

Those attacks included three roadside bombs as well as a fourth bomb placed under a garbage can in the northern part of the Afghan capital.

The Interior Ministry said on May 11 that Afghan security forces arrested the Islamic State group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, during an operation on the northern side of the Afghan capital.