U.S. anti-missile defenses intercepted rockets fired at Kabul’s airport on Monday as the United States flew its core diplomats out of Afghanistan in the final hours of its chaotic withdrawal.
The last U.S. troops are due to leave Kabul by Tuesday after the biggest air evacuation in history. The United States and its allies have flown out 122,000 people, including their own citizens and Afghans who helped them over 20 years of war.
Two U.S. officials said “core” diplomatic staff were among 6,000 Americans to have left. They did not say whether this included top envoy Ross Wilson, expected to be among the last civilians to depart.
A U.S. official said initial reports did not indicate any U.S. casualties from as many as five missiles fired on the airport. Islamic State – enemies of both the West and the Taliban – claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks.
An Islamic State suicide bombing outside the teeming airport gates on Thursday killed scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. troops.
In recent days Washington has warned of more attacks, while carrying out two air strikes. It said both hit Islamic State targets, one thwarting an attempted suicide bombing in Kabul on Sunday by destroying a car packed with explosives, but which Afghans said had struck civilians.
Tuesday’s deadline for troops to leave was set by U.S. President Joe Biden, fulfilling an agreement reached with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump to end the United States’ longest war.
But having failed to anticipate that the Taliban would so quickly conquer the country, Washington and its NATO allies were forced into a hasty exit. They will leave behind thousands of Afghans who helped Western countries and might have qualified for evacuation.
The Taliban, Islamist militants who carried out public executions and banned girls and women from school or work when last in power 20 years ago, have said they will safeguard rights and not pursue vendettas. They say once the Americans leave, the country will be at peace for the first time in more than 40 years.
But countless Afghans, especially in the cities, fear for their futures. And the United Nations says the entire country now faces a dire humanitarian crisis, cut off from foreign aid amid a drought, mass displacement and COVID-19.
“The evacuation effort has undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of lives, and these efforts are praiseworthy,” said UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi.
“But when the airlift and the media frenzy are over, the overwhelming majority of Afghans, some 39 million, will remain inside Afghanistan. They need us – governments, humanitarians, ordinary citizens – to stay with them and stay the course.”
As aid agencies warned the healthcare system could collapse after foreign donors suspended aid, a plane carrying 12.5 tonnes of World Health Organization medical supplies landed in northern Afghanistan, the first such shipment since the Taliban takeover.
Outside the airport in Kabul, people described themselves as forsaken by the departing foreign troops.
“We are in danger,” said one woman. “They must show us a way to be saved. We must leave Afghanistan or they must provide a safe place for us.”
Monday’s attack saw several rockets strike different parts of the Afghan capital, the Pajhwok news agency said.
“People are terrified and worried about the future, worried that the rocket launching might continue,” Kabul resident Farogh Danish said, near the wreckage of a car from which Afghan media said the rockets were launched.
U.S. Central Command said it was investigating reports that up to 10 civilians were killed by Sunday’s drone strike, which the Pentagon said stopped an Islamic State suicide car bombing.
Two U.S. officials told Reuters that Monday’s evacuations would prioritize people deemed to be at extreme risk, including some at the request of other countries.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed in a phone call that vital aid for civilians in Afghanistan and those who fled to neighboring countries should be sent through the United Nations.
The two also discussed plans to evacuate civilians after the U.S. completes its pullout on Aug. 31, a German statement said.
The Taliban will take full control of Kabul airport after the U.S. withdrawal on Tuesday, Qatar’s Al Jazeera television network cited an unidentified Taliban source as saying.
PRESIDENT MOURNS U.S. DEAD
Biden attended a ceremony on Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honor members of the U.S. military killed in Thursday’s suicide bombing, the deadliest incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in more than a decade.
Five of the fallen service members were just 20, as old as the war that began in late 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks by al Qaeda on the United States.
U.S.-backed forces ousted a Taliban government that had provided safe haven for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and then battled a two-decade counter-insurgency by the Islamist militants.