A US official said that anti-missile defences intercepted up to five rockets fired at Kabul’s airport early Monday morning, as the US pushed to finish its withdrawal from Afghanistan to end its longest conflict.
After evacuating approximately 114,400 people, including foreign nationals and “at risk” Afghans, in an operation that began the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, US and allied forces are set to complete their own withdrawal by Tuesday to meet a deadline agreed upon with the Islamist militants.
Over the weekend, the number of US troops at the airport fell below 4,000, with preparations to leave becoming more pressing after an Islamic State suicide bomb strike outside the airport gates on Thursday killed hundreds of Afghan civilians and 13 US military personnel.
According to Afghan media, the rocket attack on Monday was launched from the back of a truck. According to the Pajhwok news agency, numerous missiles hit various parts of the Afghan capital.
The latest rocket attack did not appear to have resulted in any U.S. casualties, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to Reuters.
A White House statement said U.S. President Joe Biden reconfirmed his order that commanders do “whatever is necessary to protect our forces on the ground”, after being briefed on the attack, and he was informed that operations continued uninterrupted at the airport.
On Sunday, a U.S. drone strike killed a suicide car bomber who Pentagon officials said was preparing to attack the airport on behalf of ISIS-K, a local affiliate of Islamic State that is an enemy of both the West and the Taliban.
U.S. Central Command said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties from Sunday’s drone strike.
“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.
For all the efforts made by Western powers to evacuate as many people as possible, tens of thousands of desperate Afghans faced 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 U.S. 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.
Biden attended a ceremony on Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honour members of the U.S. military killed in Thursday’s suicide bombing attack.
As the flag-draped transfer caskets carrying the remains emerged from a military plane, Biden shut his eyes and tilted his head back.
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.
Biden has vowed to avenge the Islamic State attack.
The United States said on Saturday it had killed two ISIS-K militants. The Taliban condemned the U.S. drone strike, which took place in Nangarhar province, an eastern area that borders Pakistan.
The departure of the last troops will mark the end of the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan, which began in late 2001, after the al Qaeda Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
U.S.-backed forces forced the removal of a Taliban administration that had offered a safe haven for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was eventually killed by US forces in Pakistan in 2011, and have been engaged in a counter-insurgency fight against Islamist terrorists for the past two decades.
The Taliban’s leadership from 1996 to 2001 was characterised by a hardline interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law, in which many political rights and basic freedoms were restricted and women were severely mistreated.
According to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, the group would announce a full Cabinet in the coming days, and the challenges will fade swiftly once the new administration is in place.
But with its economy shattered by decades of war, Afghanistan now faces a sudden halt in inflows of billions of dollars in foreign aid.