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Militants attack midwife training centre in Afghanistan, three wounded as fighting rages

At least 67 people, including students and teachers, were inside the centre in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, at the time of the attack, provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said. So far, 57 had escaped to a “safe area” but 10 were still missing, he said.

world Updated: Jul 29, 2018 10:28 IST
Afghanistan,Jalalabad,Islamic State
Plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from the centre and gunfire could be heard from inside.(Reuters)

Gunmen raided a midwife training centre in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday in an ongoing attack that has left at least three people wounded and sparked fierce fighting with security forces, officials and witnesses said.

At least 67 people, including students and teachers, were inside the centre in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, at the time of the attack, provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP. So far, 57 had escaped to a “safe area” but 10 were still missing, he said.

Plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from the centre and gunfire could be heard from inside.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack, but most of the recent assaults in the city have been carried out by the Islamic State group, which has a stronghold in Nangarhar. “The Afghan security forces have cordoned off the area and... launched an operation to gun down the attackers,” Khogyani said earlier.

Three wounded civilians have been taken to hospital. Provincial health department spokesman Inamullah Miakhil said 48 women from remote districts of the province were enrolled in the two-year midwifery course.

The training facility is located near the centre of Jalalabad in an area where several international organisations and consulates have offices. A witness in a nearby department told AFP he heard several explosions and then saw three gunmen enter the street where the midwife centre is located.

Some of the security forces appeared to be dismantling improvised explosive devices apparently planted in the street by the militants, a witness told AFP. Jalalabad has been the scene of several attacks in recent months that have killed dozens, as US and Afghan forces continue offensive operations against IS and Taliban militants.

Health workers a target

Government buildings are a common target for insurgents, including hospitals and medical facilities.

While it is not known why the gunmen targeted the midwife training centre, midwives have been attacked in the past for providing reproductive health services to women. Islamist groups — and many ordinary Afghans — also oppose women working outside the home.

While thousands of women have been trained as midwives since the 2001 US-led invasion, Afghanistan still has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. The last major attack in Jalalabad happened on July 11 when gunmen raided an education department compound in the city, sparking an hours-long battle with security forces.

At least 11 people were killed in the attack. All were employees of the education department branch and included the director. A suicide bomb attack claimed by ISIS on a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad on July 1 killed at least 19 people and wounded 21.

The Taliban is Afghanistan’s largest militant group and IS has a relatively small but potent presence, mainly in the east and north of the country. It first emerged in Afghanistan in 2014 and quickly established a stronghold in Nangarhar.

Intensified aerial and ground operations against the militants have failed to dislodge them. An unprecedented three-day ceasefire involving Afghan security forces and the Taliban last month did not include IS.

The first formal nationwide truce since 2001 was marred by two IS suicide attacks in Nangarhar. While the Afghan government and its foreign backers are seeking to strike a peace deal with the Taliban, US forces have repeatedly said they plan to annihilate ISIS.

First Published: Jul 28, 2018 13:32 IST