Rockets struck a neighbourhood near Kabul’s international airport on Monday amid the ongoing US withdrawal from Afghanistan. It wasn’t immediately clear who launched them.
The rockets struck on Monday morning in Kabul’s Salim Karwan neighbourhood, witnesses said. Gunfire immediately followed the explosions but it was not immediately clear who was firing.
The witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said they heard the sound of three explosions and then saw a flash in the sky. People fled after the blasts, they said.
US officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. US military cargo planes continued their evacuations at the airport after the rocket fire.
Having evacuated about 114,400 people, including foreign nationals and Afghans deemed “at risk”, in an effort that began a day before Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, US and allied forces are set to complete their own withdrawal by a Tuesday deadline agreed with the group.
The number of US troops at the airport had fallen below 4,000 over the weekend, as departures became more urgent after an Islamic State suicide bomb attack outside the gates on Thursday killed scores of Afghans and 13 US troops.
Afghan media said Monday's rocket attack was launched from the back of a vehicle. The Pajhwok news agency said several rockets struck different parts of the Afghan capital.
In Washington, the White House issued a statement saying officials briefed US President Joe Biden on “the rocket attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA)” in Kabul.
“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 statement said.
The US State Department released a statement on Sunday signed by around 100 countries, as well as Nato and the European Union, 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.
Earlier this week, an IS suicide attack outside the airport killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members. The US carried out a drone strike elsewhere in the country on Saturday that it said killed two members of IS' local affiliate in Afghanistan, which has battled the Taliban in the past.
On Sunday, a US drone strike blew up a vehicle carrying “multiple suicide bombers” from Afghanistan’s Islamic State (IS) affiliate before they could attack the ongoing military evacuation at Kabul’s international airport, American officials said. An Afghan official said three children were killed in the strike.
US Central Command said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties from Sunday's drone strike.
“We know 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 drone attack killed seven people, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told China's state television CGTN on Monday, criticising the US action on foreign soil as unlawful.
Biden mourns dead
Biden attended a ceremony on Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honour members of the US military killed in Thursday's suicide bombing.
As the flag-draped transfer caskets carrying the remains emerged from a military plane, the president, who has vowed to avenge the Islamic State attack, shut his eyes and tilted his head back.
None of the fallen service members was older than 31, and five were just 20, as old as the war in Afghanistan itself.
The departure of the last troops will end the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan that began in late 2001, after the Al Qaeda Sept 11 attacks on the United States.
US-backed forces 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 engaged in a counter-insurgency war against the group for the past two decades.
The Taliban's rule from 1996 to 2001 was marked by a harsh version of Sharia law, with many political rights and basic freedoms curtailed and women severely oppressed.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said the Taliban will announce a full cabinet in coming days, and that difficulties will subside quickly 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.