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'They Came to Kill the Mothers': MSF Mourns After Sinister Attack on Maternity Ward in Kabul

"This country is sadly used to seeing horrific events. But what happened Tuesday is beyond words."

The attack on the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 12, 2020 lasted for hours—described as a "four hours of hell"—and while some doctors, staff, and patients were able to find shelter in safe rooms, many were helpless in the face of the assailants.  (Photo: Frederic Bonnot/MSF)

The attack on the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 12, 2020 lasted for hours—described as a "four hours of hell"—and while some doctors, staff, and patients were able to find shelter in safe rooms, many were helpless in the face of the assailants.  (Photo: Frederic Bonnot/MSF)

In the wake of a bloody assault inside a Kabul, Afghanistan hospital earlier this week that left at least 24 people dead, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has now said their belief is that the attack was a "deliberate" targeting of their operations—one specifically aimed at new and expecting mothers in the maternity ward.

"It's shocking. We know this area has suffered attacks in the past, but no one could believe they would attack a maternity. They came to kill the mothers."
—Frederic Bonnot, Médecins Sans Frontières

"I went back the day after the attack and what I saw in the maternity demonstrates it was a systematic shooting of the mothers," said Frederic Bonnot, MSF's head of programs in Afghanistan who was in the hospital during the attack.

"They went through the rooms in the maternity, shooting women in their beds," he said. "It was methodical. Walls sprayed with bullets, blood on the floors in the rooms, vehicles burnt out and windows shot through."

According to a statement by the international relief group, the maternity ward was staffed by 102 Afghan MSF colleagues working alongside a handful of international staff. When the gunmen stormed into the hospital complex, according to witnesses, they headed past buildings and wards that were closer to the entrance and headed straight for the maternity ward.

The attack lasted for hours—described as a "four hours of hell"—and while some doctors, staff, and patients were able to find shelter in safe rooms, many were helpless in the face of the assailants. According to MSF:

Eleven women were killed, three of them in the delivery room with their unborn babies, and five others were injured. Ten managed to find shelter in safe rooms along with many health workers. Also among the dead are two young boys and an Afghan midwife working with MSF. Two newborn babies were wounded, one of whom was transferred to another hospital for emergency surgery after being shot in the leg, as well as three Afghan MSF staff members.

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"During the attack, from the safe room we heard shooting everywhere and explosions too," said Bonnot. "It's shocking. We know this area has suffered attacks in the past, but no one could believe they would attack a maternity. They came to kill the mothers."

No specific group has yet claimed responsibility for the carnage. While the U.S. has blamed Islamic State terrorists for the attack, the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani has pinned responsibility on the Taliban and Tuesday, after the hospital massacre, authorized new offensive military measures against Taliban forces despite a so-called "peace agreement" brokered earlier this year by the U.S. and others.

"If the Taliban cannot control the violence, or their sponsors have now subcontracted their terror to other entities—which was one of our primary concerns from the beginning—then their [sic] seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in 'peace talks'," Afghan national security advisor Hamdullah Mohib declared.

The Taliban has denied involvement in the attacks, but the 2001 invasion by the U.S. and susequent military occupation and civil war it unleashed have made death and misery a part of daily life in the country by cultivating a cycle of violence that still has no end in sight.

"This country is sadly used to seeing horrific events," said Bonnot. "But what happened Tuesday is beyond words."

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