A Taliban spokesman put the death toll far lower, at only seven, but officials separately said 25 had been killed. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but a state-run news agency blamed the extremists’ local affiliate, known as Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K)
“I am inside the hospital. I heard a big explosion coming from the first checkpoint. We were told to go to safe rooms. I also hear guns firing,” a doctor at the hospital told AFP.
“I can still hear gun firing inside the hospital building. I think the attackers are going from room to room… like the first time it was attacked,” he added.
On Tuesday night, Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) claimed responsibility for the massacre. In a statement on its Telegram channel, the group said that “five Islamic State group fighters carried out simultaneous co-ordinated attacks” on the sprawling site.
The hospital, which treats wounded soldiers from both the Taliban and former Afghan security forces, was previously attacked in 2017, when gunmen disguised as medical staff killed at least 30 people in an hours-long siege.
After the collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s government in August, IS-K has emerged as the main military opposition to the Taliban’s restored Islamic emirate.
Killings claimed by IS-K have risen sharply in the past month and the Taliban have appeared to struggle to make the transition from insurgents to securing the country themselves.
Scores were killed in separate bomb blasts in Shia mosques and Kunduz and Kandahar last month. A wave of killings has unsettled the eastern province of Nangarhar, where the Taliban and IS-K have appeared to trade assassinations in an escalating war.
The Taliban said four attackers had been killed in the assault and one captured. Video shared by Taliban social media accounts appeared to show a captive at the scene, sitting surrounded by Taliban fighters.
Attacks by IS-K have led to mounting concern about the potential for Afghanistan to become a haven for international militant groups, as it was when an al-Qaeda group attacked the United States in 2001.
An economic crisis has also left the Taliban unable to pay thousands of former fighters.