Sunday Aug 29, 2021
A US drone strike on Sunday hit a suicide bomber in a vehicle who was aiming to attack Kabul airport as US forces worked to complete a withdrawal that will end two decades of military involvement in Afghanistan, US officials said.
Initial reports of the incident also involved the mention of a rocket attack. Al Jazeera initially quoted Afghan police chief Rashid as saying that a rocket hit a neighbourhood northwest of the airport amid US evacuation and has killed a child.
According to Geo News, however, a drone strike was carried out in the Khawja Bughra area, and killed seven — including four children, a husband and wife, and one other person. One person injured in the attack was rushed to a medical facility.
"A car parked inside a house in which children and adults were sitting was hit, resulting in the casualties," area residents told Geo News.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid corroborated this, saying that a US airstrike "targeted a suicide bomber in a vehicle who wanted to strike Kabul airport", according to Al Jazeera.
The Taliban had started their own investigations to determine whether it was really a suicide bomber driving a vehicle loaded with explosives, Reuters quoted him as saying.
CNN soon after reported a defence official confirming that the US carried out a defensive airstrike inside Kabul.
The official said the drone strike "targeted a suspected [Daesh] car bomb that was targeting the airport", adding that a secondary explosion indicates there was a substantial amount of explosive material.
CNN quoted the official as saying that initial information indicates "there were no civilian casualties".
Footage on TV and social media showed black smoke rising in the area in the aftermath of the blast, as seen in this clip from Twitter shared by BBC.
Later in the evening, Geo News reported that eyewitnesses said a car parked inside a house containing a family was hit.
According to area residents, the owner of the house, Izmir, had two guests over, one of whom was killed, whereas the other was taken away for medical attention.
It is not known who the guests were or how long they had been at the house.
The strike was the second by the US military since a Daesh suicide bomb just outside the airport on Thursday killed 13 US troops and scores of Afghan civilians.
The airport has been the scene of a massive airlift by US and allied forces evacuating their citizens and Afghans desperate to leave a country since the Taliban took control two weeks ago.
Officials said the strike targeted suspected militants from Daesh Khorasan, a local affiliate of Daesh that is an enemy of both the West and of the Taliban movement that took over the capital on August 15 after a lightning offensive.
One US official said it was carried out by an unmanned aircraft piloted from outside Afghanistan..
US officials had said they were particularly concerned about the Daesh attacking the airport as American troops depart, in particular the threat from rockets and vehicle-borne explosives.
The drone strike took place while remaining civilians waited at the airport to be flown out before the last troops leave, a Western security official told Reuters. A US official told Reuters on Saturday that fewer than 4,000 troops remained.
President Joe Biden has said he will stick by his deadline to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Tuesday. He had said on Saturday that his military chiefs had told him another militant attack was highly likely.
The United States and allies have taken about 114,400 people — foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans — out of the country in the past two weeks, but tens of thousands who want to go will be 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.
The airlift — one of the biggest such evacuation operations ever —- marked the end of a 20-year Western mission in Afghanistan that began when US-led forces ousted a Taliban government that had provided safe haven for the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The final chapter came after the United States and the Taliban made a deal to end the foreign involvement by August 31. The Western-backed government and Afghan army melted away as Taliban fighters swept across the country, taking control of Kabul on August 15.
A Taliban official told Reuters the group had engineers and technicians ready to take charge of the airport.
"We are waiting for the final nod from the Americans to secure full control over Kabul airport as both sides aim for a swift handover," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Biden headed on Sunday to Dover Air Force Base to honour members of the US military killed in Thursday's attack as their remains were returned to the United States.
He vowed to go after the perpetrators and on Saturday the US it had killed two Daesh militants in a drone strike. The Taliban condemned that strike, which took place in eastern Nangarhar province which borders Pakistan.
Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Washington expected the Taliban to still allow safe passage for Americans and others to leave after the US military withdrawal is completed.
"The Taliban have both communicated privately and publicly that they will allow for safe passage," Jake Sullivan said in a CBS TV interview.
The Afghan government's collapse leaves an administrative vacuum that has led to fears of an economic crisis and widespread hunger.
Prices for commodities like flour, oil and rice are rapidly rising and the currency is plunging, with money changers across the border in Pakistan already refusing to accept the afghani.
On Saturday, officials ordered banks to re-open and imposed a limit on withdrawals of $200 or 20,000 afghani. Long queues forming outside bank branches of people trying to get money out.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said the difficulties will subside quickly once the new administration is up and running.
But with its economy shattered by decades of war, Afghanistan is now facing the end of billions of dollars in foreign aid poured in by Western donors.
Mujahid said the Taliban would announce a full cabinet in the coming days. It had appointed governors and police chiefs in all but one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, he said.
The Taliban also appealed to the United States and other Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations after withdrawing. Britain said that should happen only if the Taliban allow safe passage for those who want to leave and respect human rights.
The Taliban's 1996-2001 rule was marked by a harsh version of the sharia Islamic law, with many political rights and basic freedoms curtailed and women severely oppressed.
Afghanistan was also a hub for anti-Western militants, and Washington, London and others fear it might become so again.
Biden has faced criticism at home and abroad for the chaos surrounding the final weeks of US military presence in Afghanistan. He has defended his decisions, saying the United States long ago achieved its rationale for invading in 2001.
Britain's last military flight left Kabul on Saturday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would not have wished to leave Afghanistan in such a manner.