Afghans left with few answers as officials investigate hospital attack

AFP and Staff

Afghan police officers March 8 in Kabul arrive at a military hospital under terrorist attack. More than 100 people were killed, survivors and security sources told AFP. [Shah Marai/AFP]

Afghan police officers March 8 in Kabul arrive at a military hospital under terrorist attack. More than 100 people were killed, survivors and security sources told AFP. [Shah Marai/AFP]

KABUL -- Nearly ten days have passed since militants attacked Afghanistan's largest military hospital, yet many Afghans are still seething at the barbarity of the attack, and officials are still trying to piece together exactly what happened.

Witnesses and the families of the slain reacted with outrage and grief to the atrocities that occurred in the Sardar Daud Khan hospital on March 8.

"They were killing everyone, doctors and patients alike," Dr. Horia Azimi, who was present in the hospital during the attack, told Salaam Times. "How can they call themselves Muslims?"

The killers "demonstrated again their complete disregard for the lives of Afghan civilians", Kabul resident Zaidullah, whose cousin, a physician, was killed at the hospital.

Their use of high explosives and firearms inside a hospital "might amount to war crimes", he told Salaam Times.

In the savage assault, the killers stabbed bed-ridden patients, threw grenades into crowded wards and shot people from point-blank range. Three hospitalised generals were killed.

Disputed facts

Exactly what happened during the attack is still unclear.

A number of gunmen dressed as doctors rampaged the facility after a suicide bomber on foot detonated himself at the rear entrance, sparking chaos inside the 400-bed facility.

Afghan special forces launched a clearance operation that lasted about six hours, landing on the roof of the hospital and ultimately gunning down the attackers.

The rest of the facts are disputed.

The Ministry of Defence puts the death toll at about 50, while security sources and survivors say it exceeded 100.

In addition, multiple survivors spoke of a "simultaneous massacre", revealing that attackers already positioned inside the facility -- some of them familiar staff -- launched a killing spree immediately after the blast. They allegedly included two interns in their 20s who had worked in the facility for months, according to a hospital official who guided Afghan special forces to rescue the victims.

However, the Ministry of Defence Wednesday (March 15) shrugged off allegations that insiders were involved in the catastrophic attack.

Official investigation

The incident has put the Afghan security leadership under the spotlight from lawmakers and social media users.

"If I were the minister of defence, or intelligence chief or the minister of interior, I would submit my resignation," MP Nawab Mangal was quoted as saying in the local media Tuesday.

"How long should Afghan people tolerate this kind of negligence and unprofessional behaviour?" one Afghan asked on Facebook, echoing a deluge of similar comments.

A government commission has been set up to investigate, said the Defence Ministry.

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are "fully committed to securing the country", Ministry of Interior spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Salaam Times, adding, "We are working with tribal elders to tighten security."

More confusion stems from the dispute over which group carried out the attack.

The "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) claimed it was behind the attack, hours after the Taliban denied responsibility.

However, survivors to whom AFP spoke said the attackers chanted "Long live the Taliban" in Pashtu and attacked all but two wards on the hospital's first floor where Taliban patients were admitted.

[Izazullah from Kabul contributed to this report.]

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