Several rockets were launched this Monday (30) against the international airport in Kabul, on the penultimate day of the presence of US troops in Afghanistan. The Americans are speeding up the operation to complete the evacuation of people from the country in a climate of threat of new attacks.
Satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows crowd gathered at the northeast gate of Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan’s capital, on Aug. 27, 2021, the day after a terrorist attack at the Abbey gate at another location in the airport — Photo: Maxar Technologies via AP
A former Afghan government Security Department official brought down by the Taliban two weeks ago said the rockets were launched from a vehicle in the northern area of Kabul, where the airport is located.. Residents near the airport said they heard the sound of the missile defense system activating and saw shrapnel falling from the sky, indicating that at least one rocket had been intercepted.
Rocket launch tubes inside a destroyed vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, on Aug. 30, 2021. Rockets were intercepted by the US anti-missile system at Hamid Karzai International Airport and others hit a nearby neighborhood, according to the Associated Press. — Photo: Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/AP
US Operation in Kabul
The White House confirmed the rocket attack on the airport and noted that the withdrawal was continuing without interruption.
US troops are now focused on removing all US military and diplomats from the country. “President Biden has re-confirmed the order for commanders to redouble their efforts to do whatever is necessary to protect our forces there,” the White House said in a statement.
US President Joe Biden has set Tuesday Aug. 31 as the deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. The milestone will signify the end of two decades of a military operation initiated in retaliation for the September 11 attacks.
The return of the Taliban Islamic fundamentalist movement to power, from which they had been removed in 2001, triggered a desperate attempt to flee the country of Afghans. The flights were organized by Western countries, led by the United States. They allowed the removal of more than 114,000 people from Kabul airport.
Operations officially end this Tuesday (31), but several countries have already completed their missions. Some powers, such as France and the United Kingdom, are calling for the creation of a “protected zone” in Kabul, under UN control, to carry out humanitarian operations. But the Taliban has already rejected the proposal.
Threat from the Islamic State
The Islamic State (EI), rival of the Taliban, poses a major threat in the final stretch of withdrawal, as demonstrated by the suicide attack on the airport last Thursday (26). The double bombing killed more than 100 people, including 13 American soldiers.
Biden warned of the high probability of further attacks. On Sunday (29) the US military carried out an air strike against a car bomb in Kabul. The vehicle was hit by a drone two kilometers from the airport in the Afghan capital.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed that the car full of explosives on its way to the airport had been destroyed. The Taliban also reported that an alleged second attack hit a house.
Killing civilians Throughout the 20-year war in Afghanistan, US troops have been accused of killing civilians in their air strikes. This was one of the reasons that caused the loss of local support. By Sunday, the American action may have hit civilians again.
“We received reports of civilian casualties following our attack on a vehicle in Kabul,” Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for the US Military Central Command, said in a statement. Urban said the blasts were “potent” and the army is still investigating whether they caused civilian deaths. “We would be deeply saddened by any loss of innocent life,” he said.
In recent years, the IS arm in Afghanistan and Pakistan has carried out some of the most violent attacks in these countries, with massacres of civilians in mosques, squares, schools and hospitals.
Although the Islamic State group and the Taliban are radical Sunni groups, the two maintain a strong rivalry. Both claim that they represent true jihad (“holy war”).
Thursday’s attack, the most violent action against the United States in Afghanistan since 2011, has prompted increased cooperation between US and Taliban forces to secure the airport. On Saturday, Taliban fighters escorted a steady stream of Afghans from buses to the passenger terminal, where people were handed over to American soldiers for withdrawal.
Return of Taliban leader
The Taliban, which once housed the al-Qaeda terrorist network, promises a more moderate version of the fundamentalist regime it imposed in Afghanistan between 1996-2001.
Many Afghans, especially those who worked with foreign missions or for the deposed government, fear the new Taliban version. Thousands have already managed to leave the country in the withdrawal operation organized by the Western powers, but many are still trying to flee on the last American flights.
On Sunday, the Taliban announced that their supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, is in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, and plans to make a public appearance soon.