Rockets fired at Kabul airport, intercepted by missile defense system

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Several rockets had been fired at the airport, according to witnesses and security sources.

Strong points

  • A suspected US drone strike had hit the car, about 2km from the airport
  • A Taliban terrorist said he believed five rockets were fired
  • There have been no reports of fatalities or damage to the airport from the rocket attacks

Kabul, Afghanistan:

Rockets were fired Monday at Kabul airport where US troops were rushing to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuate their allies under threat of attacks from the Islamic State group.

President Joe Biden has set a deadline of Tuesday to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan, ending his country’s longest military conflict, which began in retaliation for the September 11 attacks.

The return of the hardline Islamist movement of the Taliban, which was toppled in 2001 but regained power a fortnight ago, has sparked an exodus of terrified people aboard US-led evacuation flights.

Those flights, which have evacuated more than 120,000 people from Kabul airport, will officially end on Tuesday when the last of thousands of US troops withdraws.

But US forces are now primarily focused on getting themselves and US diplomats to safety.

The Taliban’s rival ISIS group poses the biggest threat to the withdrawal after carrying out a suicide bombing at the airport perimeter late last week that left more than 100 people dead, including those of 13 American soldiers.

Biden had warned that more attacks were highly likely, and the United States said it carried out an airstrike on Sunday night in Kabul on a car bomb prepared by the Islamic State.

This was followed Monday morning by rocket fire at the airport.

“We Can’t Sleep”

The White House confirmed there was a rocket attack directed at the airport, but said operations there were “uninterrupted”.

“The President … reconfirmed his order to commanders to redouble their efforts to prioritize whatever is necessary to protect our forces in the field,” the White House statement said.

An AFP photographer captured images of a wrecked car on Monday with a launcher still visible in the back seat.

A suspected US drone strike had hit the car, about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the airport.

A Taliban official at the scene said he believed five rockets were fired and all were destroyed by the airport’s missile defense systems.

Although there have been no reports of deaths or damage to the airport from the rocket attacks, they have caused greater concern for residents already traumatized by years of war.

“Since the Americans took over the airport, we can’t sleep properly,” Abdullah, who lives near the airport and gave only one name, told AFP.

“It’s either gunfire, rockets, sirens or huge aircraft noises that bother us. And now that they’re directly targeted, it can put our lives at risk.”

“Potential loss of innocent lives”

The United States said Sunday night’s airstrike on the car bomb eliminated another threat from IS jihadists.

However, he may also have killed civilians.

“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today,” Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.

“We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent lives.”

In recent years, ISIS’s Afghanistan-Pakistan branch has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in these countries.

They massacred civilians in mosques, public squares, schools and even hospitals.

While ISIS and the Taliban are die-hard Sunni Islamists, they are bitter enemies – each claiming to be the true standard-bearers of jihad.

Last week’s suicide bombing at the airport resulted in the worst one-day toll for the US military in Afghanistan since 2011.

The threat from the Islamic State has forced the US military and the Taliban to cooperate in securing the airport in ways unthinkable just weeks ago.

On Saturday, Taliban fighters escorted a steady stream of Afghans from buses to the main passenger terminal, handing them over to US forces for evacuation.

Taliban leader

The Taliban have promised a looser regime compared to their first stint in power, which the US military ended because the group gave refuge to al-Qaeda.

But many Afghans fear a repeat of the Taliban’s brutal interpretation of Islamic law, as well as violent retaliation for working with foreign military, Western missions or the previous US-backed government.

Western allies have warned that several thousand at-risk Afghans have been unable to board evacuation flights.

On Sunday, the Taliban revealed that their supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was in southern Afghanistan and planned to make a public appearance.

“He has been present in Kandahar. He has lived there since the very beginning,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

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