Taliban, which denied involvement in Tuesday's attacks that killed over 50 people, says it is "fully prepared" to counter any strikes ordered by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Afghan security personnel evacuate a baby from a hospital, where the international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders runs a maternity clinic, that was attacked in Kabul, Afghanistan May 12, 2020.
Afghan security personnel evacuate a baby from a hospital, where the international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders runs a maternity clinic, that was attacked in Kabul, Afghanistan May 12, 2020. (Reuters)

The Taliban on Wednesday said its fighters were prepared to battle Afghan forces after the president told troops to resume offensive operations following a series of grisly attacks that have further unravelled a fragile peace process.

New details have emerged on Tuesday's brazen assault on a Kabul maternity hospital, where at least 24 people including infants, mothers and nurses were killed. 

The daylight attack was followed by a blast at a funeral in the country's east that killed 32 mourners. That attack was claimed by Daesh.

President Ashraf Ghani blamed both that assault and the funeral bombing on the Taliban and Daesh ordering Afghan troops to "resume their operations against the enemy".

For weeks Afghan forces had been on a "defensive" posture in an attempt to ease peace talks with the Taliban.

But the insurgents, who denied involvement in Tuesday's attacks, warned they were "fully prepared" to counter any strikes by Afghan forces.

"From now onwards the responsibility of further escalation of violence and its ramifications shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the Kabul administration," the Taliban said in a statement.

The aggressive posturing raises questions about the fraying peace process as Afghanistan grapples with a public health crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Taliban cannot simply deny their involvement in violence, including the recent ones," Ghani's spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters.

MSF tragedies

According to international humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, which runs the maternity wing at the Barchi Hospital in west Kabul, one woman gave birth during the lengthy assault. 

"While pregnant women and babies were seeking health care in one of the most vulnerable states in life, attackers stormed the maternity (unit) through a series of explosions and gunfire lasting for hours," MSF said in a statement.

The group said at least one Afghan colleague appeared to have been among those killed in the "revolting" attack.

MSF has experienced several tragedies in Afghanistan, including the shooting of five staff in 2004 in Badghis province, prompting the group to pull out of the war-torn nation after 24 years. 

MSF returned in 2009. But in 2015, after the Taliban had seized the northern city of Kunduz, US air strikes destroyed an MSF trauma hospital, killing 42 people.

MSF said it opened the 55-bed maternity unit in Kabul in 2014 and has delivered more than 5,000 babies there since January 1.

Images of dead mothers and babies wrapped in blood-soaked blankets sparked international outrage.

The Taliban has not claimed any major attacks in Kabul and other cities since signing a deal with the United States in February for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan.

It has, however, regularly targeted Afghan forces in several provinces.

Afghanistan's intelligence agency said on Wednesday that since the US-Taliban deal the insurgents have carried out 3,712 attacks that have killed almost 500 civilians.

An ongoing political deadlock between Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah is also seen as a sign of weakness by the Taliban.

Abdullah had previously served as Afghanistan's "chief executive" under an earlier power-sharing deal with Ghani but lost that post after he was defeated in a presidential election by Ghani amid claims of fraud.

Instead of accepting defeat, Abdullah declared himself president, holding his own swearing-in ceremony on March 9, the same day Ghani was inaugurated.

Officials say Ghani and Abdullah are soon expected to announce a new power-sharing deal.

US pushes for peace

The Taliban blamed Daesh and elements of the government's intelligence units for the latest attacks.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the latest violence.

"Attacks against civilians are unacceptable and that hospitals, medical facilities and personnel have special protection under international humanitarian law," his spokesman said in a statement.

Top US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who noted the Taliban's denial of responsibility, urged the Afghan government and the insurgent group to cooperate to ensure a peace process succeeds.

"Failure to do so leaves Afghanistan vulnerable to terrorism, perpetual instability and economic hardship," Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy who negotiated the deal with the Taliban, said on Twitter.

The accord with Washington will see all US and foreign forces quit Afghanistan over the next year.

Source: AFP