Kabul attack: US drone strike killed several civilians says Taliban spokesman

Rockets fired at airport intercepted by defence system as US withdrawal enters final phase

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A US drone strike aimed at a vehicle carrying suspected suicide bombers in Kabul caused seven civilian casualties, including several children, the Taliban's spokesman said on Monday.

Zabihullah Mujahid told Chinese state television that he condemned the US for failing to inform the Taliban before ordering the strike on Sunday evening.

“If there was any potential threat in Afghanistan, it should have been reported to us, not an arbitrary attack that has resulted in civilian casualties,” Mr Mujahid said in a written response to CGTN.

US Central Command said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties from Sunday's drone strike described as a “defensive” operation.

“We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life,” said US Navy Capt Bill Urban, a Centcom spokesman.

“We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties,” Centcom said.

US officials have warned of the likelihood of more attacks on Kabul airport where US forces are rushing to complete the withdrawal of thousands of nationals and allies from Afghanistan before a deadline on Tuesday for a full exit from the country.

The Pentagon said on Monday that 122,000 people, including 5,400 Americans, had been evacuated from the airport since multinational operations began on August 14. That left just core diplomatic personnel and several thousand US soldiers at the airport.

The relocation of foreigners and Afghans considered at risk of Taliban retribution for working with US-led forces is in its finals stages.

The Pentagon also said that they had conducted a second drone strike on ISIS-K leadership in eastern Afghanistan, without providing further details. ISIS-K is ISIS's Afghan affiliate, named after the Khorasan region which existed during the time of the Persian Empire.

On Monday, rockets were fired towards the airport, with some being shot down by defence systems in place at the airport and others hitting surrounding areas. ISIS-K later claimed the attack on social media service Telegram.

The rockets did not halt the steady stream of US military C-17 cargo jets taking off and landing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital.

Last week, ISIS launched a devastating suicide bombing at one of the airport gates that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members.

The airport has repeatedly been a scene of chaos in the two weeks since the Taliban blitz across Afghanistan that took control of the country, nearly 20 years after the initial US invasion that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks.

But since the suicide bombing, the Taliban have tightened their security cordon around the airfield, with their fighters seen just up to the last fencing separating them from the runway.

In the capital’s Chahr-e-Shaheed district, a crowd quickly gathered around the shell of a four-door sedan used by the attackers, which had what appeared to be six home-made rocket tubes mounted where the back seat should be. ISIS and other militants routinely mount such tubes into vehicles and quietly transport them undetected close to a target.

“I was inside the house with my children and other family members, suddenly there were some blasts,” said Jaiuddin Khan, who lives nearby. “We jumped into the house compound and lay on the ground.”

The rockets landed across town in Kabul’s Salim Karwan district, striking residential apartment blocks, witnesses said. That area is about three kilometres from the airport. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The sound of the airport's missile defence system could be heard by local residents, who also reported shrapnel falling to the street. That suggested at least one rocket had been intercepted.

Smoke could be seen rising above buildings near to Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The White House issued a statement saying officials briefed President Joe Biden on “the rocket attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport” in Kabul, referring to the vehicle-based rocket launch on Monday.

“The president was informed that operations continue uninterrupted at HKIA, and has reconfirmed his order that commanders redouble their efforts to prioritise doing whatever is necessary to protect our forces on the ground.”

The US military did not respond to requests for comment. After the rocket fire, aircraft continued to land and taxi across to the northern military side of the airport. Planes took off roughly every 20 minutes at one point Monday morning.

The airport had been one of the few ways out for foreigners and Afghans fleeing the Taliban takeover. However, coalition nations have halted their flights in recent days, leaving the US military largely alone at the base with some remaining allied Afghan forces providing security.

The US State Department released a statement on Sunday signed by about 100 countries, as well as Nato and the EU, saying they had received “assurances” from the Taliban that people with travel documents would still be able to leave the country.

The Taliban have said they will allow normal travel after the US withdrawal is completed on Tuesday and they assume control of the airport. However, it remains unclear how the militants will run the airport and which commercial carriers will begin flying in given the continuing security concerns there.

National Security adviser Jake Sullivan pledged the US “will make sure there is safe passage for any American citizen, any legal permanent resident” after Tuesday, as well as for “those Afghans who helped us.”

Updated: August 30, 2021, 5:07 PM