Suspected militants have attacked the diplomatic district in the Afghan capital of Kabul, entering the country’s largest military hospital near the US Embassy there.
Four gunmen attacked the Sardar Daud Khan Hospital across the road from the US Embassy in Kabul on Wednesday. Disguised as medical personnel, one of them blew himself up at the back of the hospital before the other three entered the building.
Security forces have surrounded the hospital and been engaging the assailants, who are said to have taken positions on the third and fourth floors of the building.
A security official said anonymously that one of the attackers had been killed by security forces at the site but that the other two were still holding out.
Two hours into the raid, the Afghan Health Ministry could confirm the death of at least two people. It said 12 others were wounded. It was not clear whether the security force or the militant killed were included in the ministry toll.
Some unconfirmed reports put the casualty toll at much higher.
The medical staffers trapped in the hospital have been posting desperate messages for help on social media.
The Takfiri terrorist group of Daesh later claimed responsibility for the hospital attack. Daesh has recently gained a foothold in Afghanistan, where a longer-running militancy by Taliban had already been underway.
Every year in the run-up to and during the spring, the Taliban step up assaults on Afghan and foreign targets as part of a special offensive. Last week, 16 people were killed in simultaneous Taliban attacks on two security compounds in Kabul.
Especially intense fighting is expected between the government and the Taliban this spring as several recent attempts at negotiating peace between the two have failed.