On 12 May 2020, gunmen attacked an MSF-supported hospital in Kabul that houses a maternity clinic, killing at least 16 people including two newborn babies. The assault began with an explosion at the entrance to the 100-bed hospital in Dasht-e-Barchi, in the west of the capital, at about 10am local time. Three gunmen burst inside and began shooting, apparently indiscriminately. A reporter who was able to access the hospital soon after the attack said gunmen appeared to have opened fire in every room and on everyone inside, with some bodies still lying in the recovery room where women are taken after giving birth. The dead included mothers, nurses, and infants, the interior ministry said. Officials shared a photo of two young children lying dead inside the hospital.
About 100 people were rescued from the building, including three foreigners.
No armed group has claimed responsibility for the attack as of 18 May 2020. The Afghan Taliban have denied involvement. The Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood in Kabul, where the hospital is located, is predominantly Shia and has been the location of a number of attacks by the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, a group affiliated with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).
The vicious attack on the maternity hospital in Kabul is shocking for its brutality and violence against young mothers and newborn babies.
Such tragic attacks are sadly not an exception.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 119 attacks on health care in Afghanistan in 2019. Using different sources, the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition (SHCC) identified 101 reported attacks in the same period.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) verified 75 incidents that impacted health care in 2019, including direct attacks or threats of attacks against health care facilities and personnel, and incidental damage to health care facilities. 57 incidents were attributed to anti-government elements, including 53 to the Taliban, two to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL-KP), and two to undetermined anti-government elements. UNAMA attributed 17 incidents to pro-government forces and one jointly to pro-government forces and anti-government elements. While not all were as lethal or brutal, the cumulative impact of these events continues to weaken the health system, with devastating consequences for the people of Afghanistan.
In 2019, incidents were documented in 14 out of 34 provinces (Balkh, Farah, Faryab, Ghor,
Kabul, Kandahar, Kapisa, Nangarhar, Paktika, Parwan, Samangan, Takhar, Wardak, and Zabul). These often take place at health facilities or occur as part of indiscriminate attacks on civilians. They also affect health workers travelling to and from work.
Non-state armed groups killed, kidnapped, injured, and threatened health workers; damaged health facilities; and looted or robbed ambulances. According to available reports, Islamic State and the Afghan Taliban are among the suspected non-state armed groups behind attacks on health care in 2019.
As well as violent incidents against health care, non-state armed groups restricted health providers’ ability to deliver services. In April, for example, the Afghan Taliban announced and subsequently revoked a temporary ban on the ICRC and the WHO in areas under its rule, citing unspecified suspicious actions during a vaccination drive. In September, a health facility in Zabul province was closed down by an armed group. It was reopened following mediation involving the town’s elders.
At least three health workers were killed in incidents attributed to state forces. On July 8, Afghan Special Forces raided a Swedish Committee for Afghanistan clinic in Wardak province treating Afghan Taliban fighters. According to Human Rights Watch, the Special Forces killed a patient caregiver, then detained health workers and family of patients, and questioned the director of the clinic, a lab worker, a guard, and a family caregiver about the whereabouts of the Afghan Taliban. Local villagers found the dead bodies of the lab worker, guard, and caregiver. The director of the clinic remains missing. In response to the raid, the Afghan Taliban forced the INGO to close 42 out of its 77 clinics in the region, affecting over 5,700 patients on a daily basis. The Afghan Taliban reversed its decision on July 19.