The United Nations on Sunday charged that the Taliban and Afghan security forces had carried out “deliberate” attacks against healthcare workers and facilities at a time when Afghanistan is grappling with the deadly coronavirus epidemic.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it had registered 12 such acts of violence between March 11 and May 23 against healthcare facilities and workers.
Afghan healthcare attacks blamed on Taliban
Eight of the attacks were attributed to the Taliban, while Afghan forces were responsible for three.
One attack, the horrifying assault on a Kabul-based maternity hospital on May 12, still remained unclaimed.
The US negotiator on Afghanistan blamed the Islamic State group Thursday for the shocking Afghanistan attack on a maternity hospital as he urged the government and Taliban to stick to a faltering peace process.
Zalmay Khalilzad said the US government had assessed that the Islamic State in Khorasan, the Afghan branch of the extremists, carried out Tuesday’s dual attacks on the Kabul hospital and at a funeral in eastern Afghanistan.
“Rather than falling into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles, Afghans must come together to crush this menace and pursue a historic peace opportunity,” he wrote.
Rather than falling into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles, Afghans must come together to crush this menace and pursue a historic peace opportunity. No more excuses. Afghans, and the world, deserve better.
— U.S. Special Representative Thomas West (@US4AfghanPeace) May 14, 2020
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the funeral bombing, which killed 32 mourners.
But no group has taken credit for the assault on the maternity hospital where at least 24 people including newborns, mothers, and nurses were killed.
“At a time when an urgent humanitarian response was required to protect every life in Afghanistan, both the Taliban and Afghan national security forces carried out deliberate acts of violence that undermined healthcare operations,” UNAMA head Deborah Lyons said in a statement.
Attacks had devastating outcomes
The assault on the maternity ward of Dasht e-Barchi hospital in Kabul left 25 people dead, including 16 mothers, according to international charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The group announced last week that it was pulling out of the facility fearing similar attacks in the future.
The UN mission said Afghan forces had carried out an airstrike outside a clinic in the northern province of Kunduz in May targeting a vehicle carrying wounded Taliban fighters.
UN: Violent attacks on Afghanistan's healthcare workers and patients are deliberate. Taliban blamed for most but Afghan security forces accused of 3 others. https://t.co/y7Q4xV4rA1
— Jim Clancy (@ClancyReports) June 21, 2020
The airstrike killed several Taliban fighters but also two civilians, it said.
In another incident the UN mission said Afghan soldiers had threatened to shoot doctors at a public hospital in the eastern Nangarhar province when they refused to wash the body of a dead soldier.
In the third incident the UN mission accused troops of looting medical supplies from trucks that were aimed for a clinic in Balkh province.
Afghan healthcare system crumbling under coronavirus
The report comes as Afghanistan grapples with surging cases of coronavirus.
It has so far reported 28,833 confirmed cases, with 581 deaths.
“Perpetrating targeted attacks on healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when health resources are already stretched and of critical importance to the civilian population, is particularly reprehensible,” said Fiona Frazer, UNAMA Chief of Human Rights.
“I have a cough, fever and chest pain,” said Rahman, 32, who owns a grocery store in Helmand province.
“There is neither a centre here to diagnose or treat coronavirus patients, nor is there any effort to create awareness of the disease.
An overall shortage of testing kits, medical supplies and a dilapidated health system were compounding problems in tackling the spread, said Ahmed Saeedi, an independent analyst.
Years of war have left Afghanistan with a crumbling health sector, hampering the government’s fight against COVID-19.
In an attempt to bolster their narrative that they can run Afghanistan better than the struggling administration, the Taliban launched a campaign to tackle the virus in March.
They posted images online showing insurgents distributing masks and soap to villagers — albeit without any social distancing.
But in recent weeks, residents from provinces such as Kunduz, Helmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar — where the Taliban hold sway over large areas — complain they have been abandoned to their fate.
In Kunduz, where the militants fought a fierce night battle before a short nationwide ceasefire last month, insurgents have barred medics.
“They said they would handle the virus on their own,” said Sebghatullah, a doctor from a nearby district, worried about the residents’ lack of awareness when it came to personal hygiene.
Overall violence across the country had dropped after the Taliban offered a three-day ceasefire on May 24, but officials now claim that insurgent attacks have increased in recent weeks.
On Sunday, officials said that 42 civilians were killed and 105 wounded in the past week in Taliban attacks.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk
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