ISLAMABAD - The United Nations has accused Taliban insurgents and Afghan government forces of deliberate attacks on the country’s health care workers and facilities during the coronavirus outbreak.
The pandemic has infected nearly 29,000 Afghans, killing close to 600, although independent experts and even Afghan officials fear the actual rate is much higher, due to lack of testing availability.
In a special report released Sunday, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documents 15 incidents of violence targeting healthcare since early March, when the pandemic reached the war-torn country.
“Most of these healthcare-related incidents — eight of the targeted attacks and two of the incidents with incidental harm — were attributed to the Taliban,” according to the UNAMA findings.
The report held Afghan security forces responsible for three “targeted” attacks against healthcare. It said one instance of incidental harm to healthcare occurred during clashes between government forces and Taliban insurgents.
The UNAMA condemns all deliberate attacks, threats, abductions and other intentional acts against healthcare facilities and personnel.
“Perpetrating targeted attacks on healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when health resources are already stretched and of critical importance to the civilian population, is particularly reprehensible,” Fiona Frazer, UNAMA chief of human rights, said.
The report described as the “most abhorrent” a May 12 armed attack against a maternity ward run by Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, which remains unattributed to date.
MSF said the “horrifying” assault on its facility killed 25 people, including 16 women, with five of them “minutes, or at most hours, from giving birth.”
While the Taliban denied its involvement in the carnage, a lack of progress into subsequent Afghan official investigation apparently forced the French charity to close the maternity ward, fearing more attacks in future.
“At a time when an urgent humanitarian response was required to protect every life in Afghanistan, both the Taliban and Afghan national security forces carried out deliberate acts of violence that undermined healthcare operations,” said Deborah Lyons, the UNAMA chief.
“There is no excuse for such actions; the safety and well-being of the civilian population must be a priority,” she said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is also said to be battling a COVID-19 outbreak. An Associated Press report said that up to 20 staffers, including diplomats, contractors and locals have contracted the virus. The majority of them are Nepalese Gurkhas, who provide embassy security, it said.
“The embassy is implementing all appropriate measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the State Department said late Friday.
Deadly clashes continue
The U.N. report came on a day that Afghan officials reported new clashes between government forces and the Taliban in the country’s north.
Local officials in Takhar and neighboring Baghlan provinces told VOA that insurgents staged coordinated predawn assaults on security outposts, killing nine Afghan security forces and injuring more than a dozen others. The Taliban also overran at least three outposts, they added.
Afghanistan’s National Security Council said Sunday Taliban attacks during the past week have killed 42 civilians and injured more than 100 others across the country. There was no immediate reaction from the insurgent group.
Both the Afghan adversaries are preparing to hold a preliminary round of long-awaited peace talks in Qatar to negotiate a permanent peace and power-sharing arrangement.
The proposed intra-Afghan peace dialogue is stipulated in a landmark agreement the United States signed with the Taliban in February to end nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan.