ISLAMABAD - Armed insurgents disguised as doctors attacked Afghanistan’s largest military hospital in the capital, Kabul, Wednesday, killing 31 people and wounding at least 87 more, the Defense Ministry said. Afghan security forces surrounded the facility, killing all the assailants to end the hours-long siege.
Witnesses said the attack began with a suicide car bombing at the entrance gate of the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital in a central part of the city, after which several attackers armed with automatic weapons, grenades and suicide vests stormed the multi-story building.
The assailants proceeded to target patients and medical workers before Afghan forces engaged them and gunned them down.
Islamic State loyalists claimed responsibility for the attack.
"I was getting ready to go to the operation theater where several patients were waiting for me when I heard gunfire. I thought a colleague of mine was knocking at the door. I opened the door and saw a suicide bomber dressed as a doctor. He fired at me and I quickly hid under the stairs. He (the attacker) then fired on another staffer while moving in another direction," a doctor on staff at the hospital told reporters.
Witnesses said ambulances were transporting victims to the nearby Wazir Akbar Khan civilian hospital. Most of the victims were believed to be hospital workers.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, while addressing an event marking the international women's day a few hundred meters away from the scene of the attack, condemned the violence as a criminal act and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“This egregious and morally reprehensible attack targeted people at their most vulnerable, while they were receiving treatment in the hospital, and also targeted the medical staff caring for them,” a statement quoted the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as saying.
A U.N. Security Council statement condemned in the strongest terms the “heinous and cowardly” attack, and reiterated that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation.”
NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan said in a statement it stands ready to assist the country's security forces.
“Once again insurgents show complete disrespect for humanity by attacking a hospital. We stand with the Afghan people against terrorism,” the coalition statement said.
The attack comes two days after a new report warned the ongoing Afghan conflict and increased targeting of medical facilities and personnel by parties to the conflict have eroded the country’s already fragile health care system.
Last week, more than a dozen people were killed in simultaneous attacks claimed by the Taliban on security compounds in Kabul.
The non-governmental Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflicts, while releasing the report in New York earlier this week, said it documented more than 240 such attacks between 2015 and 2016 in at least 20 Afghan provinces. It blamed the Taliban and militants linked to Islamic State for a majority of them.
IS has stepped up attacks in Afghanistan but its bases in eastern districts have lately been under pressure from Afghan security forces backed by U.S. airpower, killing hundreds of militants linked to the group.