It would be her final act of love: A woman lying on the ground of a maternity clinic clings to her baby even as bullets shower the ward.
The mother takes her last breath, still holding tightly to the infant in her arms. Somehow, her child survives the gunfire. An astute nurse rushes to help the baby despite fear of ongoing attacks.
The pair’s last touch was captured by a photographer and was just one of the horrifying images emerging out of Kabul on Wednesday morning as the death toll from the hospital attack reached 16.
Two newborns are among the dead.
Reports indicate gunmen disguised as police had opened fire inside the hospital run by humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
The attack in the capital was one of two massacres within hours in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
In a separate attack, a suicide bomber struck the funeral of a police commander in the eastern province of Nangahar, killing at least 24 people and injuring 68. Authorities said that toll could rise.
The attacks prompted President Ashraf Ghani to order the country’s security forces to change tactics against the Taliban and other insurgent groups and relaunch “offensive” operations.
“I order all the security forces to end their active defence position, return to offensive postures, and resume their operations against the enemy,” Mr Ghani said in a televised address.
The Taliban, Afghanistan’s main Islamist insurgency group, denied involvement in both attacks and, referring to the funeral bombing, said it condemned such actions.
But Mr Ghani blamed the Taliban and Islamic State.
“Today we witnessed terrorist attacks by the Taliban and Daesh groups (Arabic abbreviation for IS) on a hospital in Kabul and a funeral in Nangarhar, as well as other attacks in the country,” he said, according to a translation by i24News.
The Dasht-e-Barchi Hospital in Kabul, where @MSF runs the maternity, was attacked. Explosions and gunfire were reported. Efforts are still on-going to evacuate patients and staff. More information will follow.
— MSF Afghanistan (@MSF_Afghanistan) May 12, 2020
The Taliban has said it has halted attacks on cities under a US troop withdrawal deal.
The Islamic State militant group operates in Nangahar and has carried out high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months.
On Monday, security forces arrested its regional leader in the capital.
Afghanistan’s national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib said on Twitter there had long been fears the Taliban would outsource its “terror”.
“If the Taliban can not control the violence, or their sponsors have now subcontracted their terror to other entities – which was one of our primary concerns from the beginning – then there seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in ‘peace talks’,” he wrote.
Photos from the Ministry of Interior showed two young children lying dead inside the hospital after Tuesday’s attack.
The surviving baby who was pictured with their dead mother was moved to intensive care in another hospital, AAP reporters in Afghanistan confirmed.
Mr Ghani said he had ordered the military to switch to “offensive” mode rather than the defensive stance it had adopted as the US withdraws troops and tries to broker talks between the government and the Taliban.
“In order to provide security for public places and to thwart attacks and threats from the Taliban and other terrorist groups, I am ordering Afghan security forces to switch from an active defence mode to an offensive one and to start their operations against the enemies,” he said.