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ISIS Fighters Disguised As Doctors Attack Kabul Hospital, Kill Dozens

A top U.S. military commander called the attack 'an unspeakable crime.'

By Robbie Gramer, a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
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More than 30 people were killed and 50 others wounded when gunmen dressed as doctors stormed Kabul’s largest military hospital in a massive attack that highlighted the Islamic State’s growing foothold in Afghanistan.

Four gunmen attacked the Sardar Daud Khan hospital after what appeared to be a suicide bomb explosion to open the medical complex’s gate at 9:00 a.m. local time Wednesday. A hospital staffer described a gunman “wearing a white coat holding a Kalashnikov and opening fire on everyone, including the guards, patients and doctors,” according to BBC.

Afghan commandos landed on the roof of the hospital and killed the attackers, but only after hours of gun battle. Doctors, soldiers, and civilians were all caught in the crossfire, as some hospital patients climbed out of windows and hid on ledges to seek shelter.

The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack, while the Taliban denied any involvement. If the Islamic State’s claims are confirmed, it would undermine the Afghan government’s claims that it has the terrorist group on the defensive. The government has been struggling to curb attacks that are increasingly high-profile and sophisticated by emboldened terror groups.

Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, called the attack “an unspeakable crime” in a statement Wednesday.

“A hospital is a place that is considered immune in any law, any religion and sect,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said. “Attacking a hospital is an attack against the entire people of Afghanistan and against all the women of Afghanistan,” he said. He added women should stand up to extremism, citing International Women’s Day, celebrated Wednesday.

Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, called the attack a “crime against humanity.”

“The only solution is to keep unity. Our enemies are only able to carry out their goals when there is political discord,” he said.

The Islamic State first announced it was setting up shop in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2015. Since then, it’s carried out multiple deadly attacks concurrently with the Taliban’s own attacks. In July 2016, ISIS claimed credit for a suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 80. Another ISIS suicide bomber killed 22 in an attack on the Afghan Supreme Court in February.

If they’re not coordinating their attacks, the two militant groups may be learning from each other. This is the first time the Islamic State employed the Taliban tactic of using suicide bombers to blow open gates, then having another group of fighters pour into a building, BBC Afghan’s Inayatulhaq Yasini said.

Photo credit: SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer