Conflicts & War

MSF withdraws from Kabul hospital over security concerns after attack

(Update 1: adds MSF project coordinator’s statement)

Kabul, June 15 (efe-epa).- Global medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Monday said it was withdrawing from a maternity hospital in the Afghan capital that came under a brutal attack in May in which 25 people, including 16 mothers, were killed.

“The decision comes with the understanding that while no information has emerged about the perpetrators or motive of the assault, mothers, babies, and health staff were the deliberate targets of the attack and that similar attacks may occur in the future,” MSF said in a statement.

“A month after the horrifying event, we know very little. The attack remains unclaimed,” the statement said.

Three gunmen detonated a bomb and opened fire near the MSF-supported maternity facility at the hospital located in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, mainly inhabited by the Hazaras, a minority Shia Muslim community.

The attack, which sparked global condemnations, left 16 mothers, an MSF midwife, two children 7 and 8, and six other people dead.

“We knew there was risk of working in Dasht-e-Barchi, but we never expected the brutality of such an attack,” Clement Perrin, the MSF Project Coordinator at the hospital, told EFE

“In the next weeks and months, we are going to assess the possibility for us to support the communities of Dasht-e-Barchi, (…) without putting the life of our workers and patients in danger,” he added.

Afghan authorities blamed the Taliban for the attack but the militant group refuted the claim.

The United States’ special envoy for Afghan peace Zalmay Khalilzad alleged that the Islamic State militant group was behind the attack since the global militant network was “a threat” to the Afghan people and the world.

The global humanitarian group said it was aware that the presence of its workers in Dasht-e-Barchi carried risks.

“But we just couldn’t believe that someone would take advantage of the absolute vulnerability of women about to give birth to murder them and their babies,” Thierry Allafort-Duverger, MSF Director-General said in the statement.

“Today, we have to accept reality: higher walls and thicker security doors won’t prevent such horrific assaults from happening again,” Allafort-Duverger said.

“To remain would mean to factor in such loss of human lives as a parameter of our activity, and this is unthinkable.”

The MSF statement said that the end of activities at the medical facility was a “necessary but painful decision, fraught with consequences for more than one million people who live in the area”.

“Most of them are from the Hazara community, a historically marginalized and poor population, many of whom were displaced by decades of conflict.”

With almost 16,000 deliveries in 2019, the Dasht-e-Barchi maternity wing was one of MSF’s biggest such projects worldwide.

The statement said that by pushing MSF to close its activity in the hospital, “the assailants have also left women and babies without access to essential medical care, in a country where maternal and neonatal mortality remain high.”

More than 70 MSF staff and patients in MSF healthcare programs have been killed in Afghanistan over the past 16 years, said the statement.

“Such tragic instances include the murder of five employees in Badghis province in 2004, and the destruction of our hospital in Kunduz by the US air force in October 2015, when 42 people died. EFE-EPA

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