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Ghani says Afghan troops to go on the offensive after deadly attacks

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a joint news conference with then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 12, 2016. (Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

President Ashraf Ghani says Afghanistan’s security forces will go on the offensive against the Taliban and other militant groups, following a violent day in which gunmen stormed a maternity hospital in Kabul and a suicide bomber targeted a funeral in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The IS claimed responsibility for the attack that targeted the funeral, saying in a statement on the Telegram messaging app quoted by AFP that the bomber exploding a suicide belt, “killing and wounding 100 nonbelievers.”

The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online jihadist activity, said the attack on the funeral was claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan, the Afghan affiliate of the IS.

IS made no mention of the attack against the maternity hospital. The Taliban denied involvement in either attack.

Ghani said in a televised address he was “ordering Afghan security forces to switch from an active defense mode to an offensive one and to start their operations against the enemies.”

He said a resumption of operations was necessary “to defend the country, safeguard our countrymen and infrastructure, and to repel attacks and threats by the Taliban and all other terrorist groups.”

The Taliban, which has denied involvement in either attack, reacted to Ghani’s statement by saying on May 13 that it was “fully prepared” to repel any military offensive.

Noting that the Taliban denied responsibility for the “horrific” attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“As long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism,” he said in a statement.

The Taliban signed a landmark deal with the United States in Qatar in February meant to pave the way for direct talks between the militant group and the Western-backed government in Kabul after more than 18 years of war.

But the Taliban has ramped up attacks in recent weeks despite a pledge to reduce violence, while IS militants also continued targeting Afghan security forces and civilians.

Earlier in the day in Kabul, three gunmen attacked the state-run hospital in the city’s mostly Shi’ite neighborhood of Dasht-e Barchi, setting off an hours-long gunbattle with Afghan security forces.

The Interior Ministry said at least 24 people were killed in the attack, including two newborn babies, and 16 others were wounded.

Security forces eventually killed all three attackers.

A witness, Jawad Amiri, told RFE/RL that one of the attackers “was wearing a military uniform and the other two were dressed as doctors.”

“They came to the main entrance and opened fire at people everywhere around. They killed many innocent people,” he added.

Afghan officials say work at the hospital was supported by the Nobel Prize-winning international nongovernmental charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

In a message sent to RFE/RL on May 12, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that the militant group was involved in the hospital attack.

IS has claimed responsibility for numerous other attacks against Shi’ite Muslims in the western part of Kabul.

Meanwhile, in the Khewa district of Nangarhar Province, the provincial governor’s spokesman, Attahullah Khogyani, told RFE/RL that 24 people were killed and more than 68 injured by a suicide bomber who attacked a funeral.

And in the southeastern province of Khost, a bomb planted in a cart at a market killed a child and wounded 10 people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for that attack.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan expressed “shock and revulsion” at the attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar, while EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned them as “acts of evil” that showed “an appalling degree of inhumanity.”

Human Rights Watch said the assault on the Kabul hospital showed “blatant disregard for civilian life and is an apparent war crime.”

The New York-based watchdog said in a statement that attacks on health care in Afghanistan had increased “sharply” since 2017.

IS has claimed responsibility for a spate of violence in Kabul on May 11 that wounded a child and three adult civilians.

Those attacks included three roadside bombs as well as a fourth bomb placed under a garbage can in the northern part of the Afghan capital.

The Interior Ministry said on May 11 that Afghan security forces arrested the Islamic State group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, during an operation on the northern side of the Afghan capital.