Gunmen dressed as doctors yesterday attacked a military hospital near the US embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and battled security forces inside the building for several hours, officials and witnesses said.
The attack began when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the rear of the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital and three attackers with automatic weapons and hand grenades entered the complex, a security official said.
The gunmen, dressed as medical personnel, had taken position on upper floors of the hospital and engaged special forces sent to the scene, officials said.
Security forces blocked off the area around the hospital, near a busy traffic intersection, before special forces soldiers descended onto the roof of the main building from helicopters.
As the fighting went on, a second explosion was heard from inside.
“Our forces are there and there is heavy fighting,” Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman Dawlat Waziri said.
He said one attacker had been killed and another two were holding out, while one soldier had been killed and three wounded.
A spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health said that at least three dead and more than 60 wounded had been taken to other hospitals.
A Taliban spokesman denied responsibility, saying the movement had “no connection” with the attack.
The raid on the hospital, across the road from the heavily fortified US embassy, underlines warnings by government officials that high-profile attacks in Kabul are likely to escalate this year as the Taliban step up their insurgency.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the attack “trampled on all human values.”
“In all religions, a hospital is regarded as an immune site and attacking it is attacking the whole of Afghanistan,” he said in impromptu remarks during a speech for International Women’s Day in Kabul.
The NATO-led Resolute Support Mission said it was ready to assist Afghan security services.
Abdul Qadir, a worker at the hospital, told reporters he saw one gunman dressed in a white doctor’s coat take out a concealed AK-47 assault rifle and open fire, killing at least one patient and one hospital worker.
As the fighting went on, some patients climbed out of the building and could be seen sheltering on window ledges visible from outside the hospital, which treats military casualties from around Afghanistan.
The attack came just one week after dozens of people were killed and wounded in coordinated attacks on a police station and an office of the Afghan National Directorate of Security in Kabul.
That attack was claimed by the Taliban, who are seeking to expel foreign troops, defeat the US-backed government and reimpose Muslim law after their 2001 ouster.
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