A U.S. drone strike blew up a vehicle carrying “multiple suicide bombers” from Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate on Sunday before they could attack the ongoing military evacuation at Kabul’s international airport, American officials said. An Afghan official said three children were killed in the strike.
The U.S. State Department released a statement signed by around 100 countries, as well as NATO and the European Union, saying they had received “assurances” from the Taliban that people with travel documents would still be able to leave the country. The Taliban have said they will allow normal travel after the U.S. withdrawal is completed on Tuesday and they assume control of the airport.
The Afghan official spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. Witnesses to the drone strike said it targeted two cars parked in a residential building near the airport, killing and wounding several civilians. Officials had initially reported a separate rocket attack on a building near the airport, but it turned out to be the same event.
Dina Mohammadi said her extended family resided in the building and that several of them were killed, including children. She was not immediately able to provide the names or ages of the deceased.
Karim, a district representative, said the strike ignited a fire that made it difficult to rescue people. “There was smoke everywhere and I took some children and women out,” he said.
Ahmaduddin, a neighbor, said he had collected the bodies of children after the strike, which set off more explosions inside the house. Like many Afghans, the two men each go by one name.
There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials after the reports of civilian casualties surfaced.
Two American military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, had earlier called the airstrike successful and said the vehicle it targeted carried multiple bombers.
U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a military spokesman, had earlier said the military was investigating whether there were civilian casualties but that “we have no indications at this time.”
“We are confident we successfully hit the target,” Urban said. “Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”
The strike came two days after an Islamic State suicide attack outside the airport killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members. The U.S. carried out a drone strike elsewhere in the country on Saturday that it said killed two IS members.
The Sunni extremists of IS, with links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq, have carried out a series of attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed women and newborns.
The Taliban have fought against the IS affiliate in the past and have pledged to not allow Afghanistan to become a base for terror attacks. The U.S.-led invasion in 2001 came in response to the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida planned and executed while being sheltered by the Taliban.
The Taliban increased security around the airport after Thursday’s attack, clearing away the large crowds that had gathered outside the gates hoping to join the airlift.
Britain ended its evacuation flights Saturday, and most U.S. allies concluded theirs earlier in the week. But U.S. military cargo planes continued their runs into the airport Sunday, ahead of a Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden to withdraw all American troops.