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Afghan leaders blame Taliban for vicious attack on maternity ward

The Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for attacks this week on a maternity ward in Kabul that left at least 24 people dead, including newborn infants and mothers, and on a funeral in Nangarhar. Officials urged the international community to put pressure on the insurgent group to reduce the violence.

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A woman sits next to newborn babies who lost their mothers in an attack on a hospital maternity ward, in Kabul, May 13, 2020. Getty

The attacks left a total of 56 people dead and more than 100 others wounded, highlighting the grim reality in Afghanistan that has forced the countries security services back into an offensive posture, despite the peace deal struck between the U.S. and the Taliban.

Human Rights Watch condemned the hospital attack as an "unspeakable act and an apparent war crime." The United Nations has demanded that the perpetrators "face justice."

The Taliban has denied responsibility for both attacks, and it remains unclear whether ISIS-affiliated militants in the country could have been involved. Afghan officials, however, have dismissed that possibility. Some have completely reject the idea of an ISIS group in the country, insisting that long-present Taliban insurgents bear responsibility for all attacks either directly, or through alliances with other terror groups.

In Kabul, three terrorists stormed a public hospital around 10 a.m. on Tuesday, first setting off an explosion just outside facility. Armed assailants then stormed the maternity ward full of women and children, mercilessly attacking everyone present. At least 24 people were killed inside the clinic, including two newborn babies, nurses, new mothers and pregnant women, according to Deputy Minister of Public Health Wahidullah Mayar. At least 16 others were wounded in the attack.

"Afghan forces evacuated 18 newborns to a nearby children's clinic for intensive care," Mayar said.

"When I entered the maternity ward, I saw a newborn in the mother's arms whom both had died," eyewitness Reza Hashimi told CBS News.

France's ambassador to Afghanistan tweeted about a newborn girl who's mother and grandmother were both killed in the attack.

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An Afghan soldier carries a newborn baby from a hospital during an attack in Kabul on May 12, 2020. Getty

In Nangarhar province, about 100 miles east of the capital, a suicide bomber blew himself up amid hundreds of people gathered for the funeral of a local security commander. The blast killed at least 32 people and left 133 more in critical condition, according to provincial spokesman Attahullah Khogyani. A member of the provincial council was among the dead.

Nangarhar was once considered the hub for ISIS militants in Afghanistan. The group was targeted there by the U.S. military, including an attack on caves used by the militants with the huge "mother of all bombs" in 2017.

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An injured boy is carried in a hospital following a bombing attack on a funeral for a local police commander in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, on May 12, 2020. Getty

But Afghanistan's government blames the attacks squarely on the Taliban, insisting the insurgent group can't hide its involvement behind denials casting blame on ISIS or other groups.

"The Taliban believes in terror and violence," said government spokesman Sediq Sediqqi. "They are behind all the violence and crimes in this country."

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a prominent skeptic of the theory that an ISIS affiliate operates independently in Afghanistan, lashed out on Twitter at the "terrorist Taliban, their current or former allies or their ideological twins" for attacking a maternity ward and "killing mothers, newborn babies," and other innocent civilians.

"Evidence shows that the Taliban are in a celebratory mood for massacring Shiites in a maternity hospital in Kabul," Saleh charged, adding a castigation of "some for accepting their lies and accusing the fictional" ISIS group in the country.

Inside an Afghan unit hunting ISIS fighters

Neither Saleh nor Sediqi shared any evidence implicating the Taliban or ISIS in the recent attacks. ISIS' faction in the country, which the U.S. has long viewed and fought as a separate enemy in Afghanistan, has not claimed responsibility for the carnage.

Visiting the hospital, which is run by the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Wednesday evening, President Ashraf Ghani said he could not tolerate the terrorist attacks and ordered the country's security forces to resume offensive operations against the Taliban.

Afghan security forces had adopted an "active defense" posture since a U.S.-Taliban agreement was agreed earlier this year, aimed at facilitating a U.S. military withdrawal from the country. The Afghan government had hoped easing off the offensive would convince the insurgent group to enter into direct peace talks with Kabul. The Taliban, however, continued its offensive.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said Wednesday that the Taliban had conducted at least 3,712 terrorist attacks across the country during the last two and half months. Tariq Aryan, a spokesman for the ministry, said 1,450 civilians were killed and wounded in those attacks since the end of an official week of "Reduction in Violence" in February, which the militants agreed to as part of the deal with the U.S.

Violence continues in Afghanistan despite U.S.-Taliban peace deal

The Taliban has blamed ISIS for the attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar and accused President Ghani of creating hurdles for the peace process. In a statement released Wednesday, the group said it was prepared to fight Afghan forces and warned that, "from now onward, the responsibility of further escalation of violence shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the Kabul administration."

The U.S. and Taliban signed their historic agreement in Doha in February. The Trump administration pushed hard for the accord, keen to keep Mr. Trump's promise to end the longest-ever war involving American forces.

The deal guaranteed a full withdrawal of U.S. military forces and direct talks between the Taliban and the Ghani government. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged soon after the agreement was signed that the road ahead would be "rocky and bumpy," but the recent attacks may push the peace plan to breaking point.

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