At least four people have been killed and dozens wounded in an attack on a military hospital close to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and the extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility.
Gunmen, some of them dressed as doctors, attacked the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital in the Afghan capital on March 8 and were engaging security forces inside the building, officials and witnesses said.
General Dawlat Waziri, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said an unknown number of gunmen entered the hospital after a suicide attack at the gates of the hospital. The 400-bed military hospital is located near two civilian hospitals in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul, and across the road from the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy.
Waziri said Afghan forces had fought the attackers floor by floor, and were carrying out a clearing operation on the sixth and eighth floors of the complex. He said at least one member of the security forces was killed and three others wounded.
At least three bodies of civilians and more than 60 wounded people were taken to nearby hospitals, Health Ministry spokesman Ismail Kawasi said. He added that the toll was likely to rise as ambulances were still at the scene.
The area around the hospital, near a busy traffic intersection, was blocked off by security forces. Afghan helicopters circled above.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on the site of its news agency Amaq. It said, "Islamic State commandos attack the military hospital in Kabul."
Although the attack came as the Taliban ramped up attacks before the start of its annual spring offensive, a Taliban spokesman told media outlets that the group did not know anything about the attack.
"Today's Kabul attack has no connection" with the Taliban, the spokesman said separately in a tweet.
Last week, dozens of people were killed and wounded in a series of Taliban attacks on a police building and an intelligence-service compound in Kabul.
The NATO-led Resolute Support mission said it was ready to assist Afghan security services.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack during a speech on the occasion of the International Women's Day, calling it "an attack on all Afghan people and all Afghan women."
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it "strongly condemns the attack and offered its condolences to relatives of the victims.
"The attack demonstrates the blatant disregard for human life by those seeking to disrupt Afghanistan’s democratic progress," the embassy said on its website. "Targeting a medical facility providing care for the brave Afghans working to protect their fellow citizens has no possible justification in any religion or creed."
With reporting by Reuters and AFP