U.S. anti-missile defences intercepted as many as five rockets that were fired at Kabul’s airport early on Monday morning, a U.S. official said, as the United States rushed to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan to end its longest war.
Having evacuated about 114,400 people – including foreign nationals and “at risk” Afghans – in an operation that began a day before Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, U.S. and allied forces are set to complete their own withdrawal by Tuesday to meet a deadline agreed with the Islamist militants.
The number of U.S. troops at the airport had fallen to below 4,000 over the weekend, with efforts to depart becoming more urgent after an Islamic State suicide bomb attack outside the gates on Thursday killed scores of Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. military personnel.
A White House statement said U.S. President Joe Biden reconfirmed his order that commanders do “whatever is necessary to protect our forces on the ground”, after being briefed on the attack, and he was informed that operations continued uninterrupted at the airport.
On Sunday, a U.S. drone strike killed a suicide car bomber who Pentagon officials said was preparing to attack the airport on behalf of ISIS-K, a local affiliate of Islamic State that is an enemy of both the West and the Taliban.
U.S. Central Command said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties from Sunday’s drone strike.
For all the efforts made by Western powers to evacuate as many people as possible, tens of thousands of desperate Afghans faced being left behind.