U.S. forces preparing the final civilian evacuations amid tightened security at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport intercepted as many as five rockets aimed at them Monday morning, CNN reports.
The bombs started coming down hours after the U.S. confirmed it had launched a drone attack in a residential neighborhood on what it said was a suicide bomber who was heading for the airport. At least nine members of families who had at one time worked with U.S. forces were killed in the chaos, including six children, five children under the age of 4—two of them just 2 years old—according to TOLO News.
Samim Ahamd told The Daily Beast he lost 10 family members in the attack—including his father, three brothers, and nephews—when a rocket hit their car. One of the victims was the secretary of an Afghan army general and another was a translator for American troops. “Some of the children had come to collect food and groceries... and some of them had jumped in the car for fun when the rocket hit,” he told The Daily Beast. “They were all torn to pieces.”
“I have no hope left, all of my family members were killed yesterday. We are not safe in our homes,” he said. “I have no one to cry to. I lost my niece, nephews, cousins, my own family members. I want justice.”
A source who has been in touch with family members said at least some of the deceased had been approved for SIV (or Special Immigrant Visas) and were hoping to be among the last evacuated from Kabul.
The U.S. acknowledged inadvertently killing civilians with the strike, but implied it was the explosives in the car bomb, not the strike that killed them. “We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties. It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating,” Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Sunday. “We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”
No one has claimed responsibility for Monday’s attempted attacks on the airport, but military experts say it is likely retaliation for U.S. drone strikes that took out two ISIS-K operatives and the quashed car bomb attempt after the Islamic State terror group offshoot claimed responsibility for sending a suicide bomber to the airport Thursday. That attack killed 13 U.S. service personnel and more than 180 civilians who had hoped to be evacuated to safety from Taliban rule.
The military’s C-RAM defense system engaged with the incoming attack by sending back automatic machine-gun fire. Flames were seen on the streets near the Kabul airport as the civilian vehicle used as an improvised rocket launcher smouldered, its tires melted and windows blown out. At least one of the rockets misfired into a high-rise building, according to CNN.
It is still unclear if there have been any casualties linked to the Monday morning exchange, or when the military plans to disarm the C-RAM system and still protect its last flight out of Kabul on Aug. 31. “The president has reconfirmed his order that commanders redouble their efforts to prioritize doing whatever is necessary to protect our forces on the ground,” according to a White House statement issued Sunday as Biden juggled the response to the deadly hurricane battering the Louisiana coast and the return of the remains of the 13 servicemembers killed in what is the deadliest attack on American military personnel since the start of the 20-year war.
As of Sunday night, when France flew its last evacuation flight out of Kabul, all allies have now finished their operations, leaving the U.S. to hand over the airport to the Taliban on Tuesday. The U.S. has helped evacuate 114,400 people out of Afghanistan, including the American diplomatic staff, the White House said Sunday.
It is understood that as of Monday, no more civilians will be evacuated under U.S. control. Several NATO countries, including the U.S., issued a statement Sunday saying they have been given assurances by the Taliban to safely evacuate others who may qualify for international protection. “We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country,” the statement said. But it is unclear how that will work in practice once the Taliban is in full control of the country on Aug. 31.