US anti-missile defences intercepted as many as five rockets that were fired at Kabul’s airport early on Monday morning, the White House has confirmed, as the United States rushes to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan to end its longest war.
US and allied forces are hurrying to evacuate their remaining citizens and at-risk Afghans before completing their own withdrawal by Tuesday to meet a deadline agreed between the Taliban and Washington.
The mission became more urgent and dangerous after an Islamic State (IS) group suicide bomb attack on Thursday killed 13 US military personnel and scores of Afghan civilians outside the airport.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters initial reports did not indicate any US casualties from the latest rocket attack, but that information could change.
US President Joe Biden was briefed on the attack and was informed that operations at the airport were not interrupted, the White House said in a statement.
Afghan media reports said the rocket attack was mounted from the back of a vehicle. According to Pajhwok news agency several rockets struck different parts of the Afghan capital.
The United States and allies have evacuated about 114,400 people – including foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans – in an operation that began a day before Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, but tens of thousands more desperate Afghans face being left behind.
“We tried every option because our lives are in danger. They |the Americans or foreign powers] must show us a way to be saved. We should leave Afghanistan or they should provide a safe place for us,” said one woman outside the airport.
Two US officials told Reuters evacuations would continue on Monday, prioritising people deemed at extreme risk. Other countries have also put in last minute requests to bring out people under that category, the officials said.
Other Western countries completed their pullouts over the weekend, with the last French plane from Kabul arriving in Paris on Sunday.
European countries work on US resolution establishing Kabul safe zone
France, Britain and Germany are working on a United Nations proposal aimed at establishing a safe zone in Kabul to allow safe passage for people trying to leave the country, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday.
Macron, who said France had begun discussions with the Taliban to explore how further evacuations might proceed, said the resolution would be brought on Monday to an emergency UN Security Council meeting of veto-wielding members.
Drone strike targets IS group affiliate
Biden attended a ceremony on Sunday at Dover Air Force Base Delaware to honour members of the US military killed in Thursday’s attack.
The US president shut his eyes and tilted his head back as the flag-draped transfer caskets carrying the remains emerged from a military plane.
None of the fallen service members was over the age of 31, and five were just 20, as old as the war in Afghanistan itself.
The ceremony came hours after a US drone strike in Kabul killed a suicide car bomber who Pentagon officials said was preparing to attack the airport on behalf of IS-K, a local affiliate of the IS group that is an enemy of both the West and the Taliban.
‘It was a huge blast’, says FRANCE 24’s senior reporter in Kabul
US Central Command said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties from the strike, the second by the US military against suspected IS-K militants.
“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,” it said.
The departure of the last troops will mark the end of the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan, which began in late 2001, after the al Qaeda Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
US-backed forced ousted a Taliban government that had provided safe haven for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was finally killed by US forces in Pakistan in 2011, and have involved in a counter-insurgency war against the Islamist militants for the past two decades.
The Taliban‘s 1996-2001 rule was marked by a harsh version of sharia, Islamic law, with many political rights and basic freedoms curtailed and women severely oppressed.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said the group will announce a full Cabinet in the coming days, and that the difficulties will subside quickly once the new administration is up and running.
But with its economy shattered by decades of war, Afghanistan now faces a sudden halt in inflows of billions of dollars in foreign aid.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)