Afghanistan: “They came to kill the mothers”

15 May 20

In the days following the attack on Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul, it has become clear that what happened in Kabul on 12 May was a deliberate assault on a maternity hospital with the purpose of killing mothers in cold blood. “I went back the day after the attack and what I saw in the maternity demonstrates it was a systematic shooting of the mothers,” says Frederic Bonnot, MSF’s Head of Programmes in Afghanistan.

“They went through the rooms in the maternity, shooting women in their beds. It was methodical. Walls sprayed with bullets, blood on the floors in the rooms, vehicles burnt out and windows shot through.”

 Frederic Bonnot     MSF’s Head of Programmes in Afghanistan.

Entrance to office.

A horrific attack

Official numbers indicate that 24 people were killed and at least 20 more injured, a large majority of them were patients. Médecins Sans Frontières, who has been supporting the facility for the past six years, has been able to confirm that 26 mothers were hospitalised at the time of the attack: while ten of them managed to find shelter in safe rooms along many health workers, not one of the 16 mothers who remained exposed to the attack was spared: 11 were killed, three of them in the delivery room with their unborn babies, and five others were injured. Among the dead are two young boys and Afghan midwives with MSF. Two new-born babies were wounded, one of whom was transferred to another hospital for emergency surgery after being shot in the leg, as well as three local MSF staff.

New born unit.

The attackers, whose overall number is as yet unknown, stormed the hospital through the main gate little after 10:00 in the morning. There were other buildings and wards closer to the entrance, but according to MSF staff present at the moment of the attack, the assailants moved straight to the maternity ward supported by MSF.

Hours of Hell

What ensued was four hours of hell – that is how long the attack lasted, while patients and staff alike looked for shelter. “During the attack, from the safe room we heard shooting everywhere and explosions too,” says Frederic Bonnot.

“It’s shocking. We know this area has suffered attacks in the past, but no one could believe they would attack maternity. They came to kill the mothers.”


One of the wards in the maternity.

102 MSF national staff colleagues were working alongside a handful of international staff. In the chaos of the attack, accounting for the patients and the staff present in the hospital became extremely difficult, as people were running for their safety and many others were hastily referred to other hospitals. “This country is sadly used to seeing horrific events,” says Bonnot. “But what happened Tuesday is beyond words.”