Missiles fired at Kabul airport as US troops race to complete withdrawal from Afghanistan

Missiles fired at Kabul airport as US troops race to complete withdrawal from Afghanistan

On Monday, missiles were fired at Kabul airport, where US troops race to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday set a deadline for the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan, ending his country’s longest military conflict that began in retaliation for the September 11 attacks.

The return of the Taliban movement, which was overthrown in 2001 but took back power a fortnight ago, sparked an exodus of terrified people aboard US-led evacuation flights.

Those flights, which took more than 120,000 people from the Kabul airport, officially end on Tuesday as the last of thousands of US troops withdraw.

But the US forces are now mainly focused on flying themselves and US diplomats safely.

The self-declared Islamic State group, rivals of the Taliban, pose the biggest threat to the withdrawal after carrying out a suicide bombing on the edge of the airport late last week that killed more than 100, including those of 13 US troops.

President Biden had warned that more attacks were very likely and the United States said it carried out an airstrike in Kabul on an IS-planned car bomb on Sunday night.

That was followed Monday morning by rockets fired at the airport.

‘We can’t sleep’

The White House confirmed a missile attack had been targeted at the airport, but said operations there were “uninterrupted”.

“The President… has reaffirmed his order that commanders redouble their efforts to prioritize everything necessary to protect our forces on the ground,” the White House statement said.

An AFP photographer took photos Monday of a destroyed car with a launch system still visible in the back seat.

A suspected US drone strike had hit the car about two kilometers from the airport.

A Taliban official on the ground said he believed five missiles had been fired and all of them destroyed by the airport’s missile defense systems.

While there were no reports of fatalities or damage to airports from the rocket attacks, they raised concerns among locals already traumatized by years of war.

“Since the Americans took control of the airport, we can’t sleep well,” Abdullah, who lives near the airport and mentioned only one name, told AFP.

“It is either gunfire, missiles, sirens or sounds of huge planes that disturb us. And now that they are attacked directly, it could endanger our lives.”

‘Potential loss of innocent life’

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

However, it is also possible that civilians have died.

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

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

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

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

While both IS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamists, they are bitter enemies – both claiming to be the true standard-bearers of jihad.

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

The threat from IS has forced the US military and the Taliban to work together to ensure airport security in a way that was unimaginable just weeks ago.

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

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