CAIRO (REUTERS) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Kabul airport on Monday (Aug 30), the group's Nasher News said on its Telegram channel.
"By the grace of God Almighty, the soldiers of the Caliphate targeted Kabul International Airport with six Katyusha rockets," it said.
US anti-missile defences intercepted as many as five rockets fired at Kabul's airport early on Monday, a US official said.
Afghan media said the attack was launched from the back of a vehicle. The Pajhwok news agency said several rockets struck different parts of the Afghan capital.
Initial reports did not indicate any US casualties, the US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
The attack came as the United States rushed to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan to end its longest war.
Two US officials said the “core” diplomatic staff had withdrawn on Monday morning. They did not say whether this included top envoy Ross Wilson, expected to be among the last to leave before the final troops themselves.
The US and allied forces have evacuated about 114,400 people, including foreign nationals and Afghans deemed “at risk”, in an effort that began a day before Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug 15.
The forces themselves are due to pull out by a Tuesday deadline agreed with the Islamist militants.
US President Joe Biden reconfirmed his order for commanders to do “whatever is necessary to protect our forces on the ground” after he was briefed on Monday’s rocket fire, the White House said. He was told airport operations continued uninterrupted, it added.
The attack followed a huge ISIS suicide bombing outside the airport gates on Thursday that killed scores of Afghans and 13 US troops and another reported attempted bombing on Sunday.
In recent days Washington has warned of more attacks, while carrying out two air strikes against ISIS targets, including one on Sunday it said thwarted an attempted suicide bombing by blowing up a car packed with explosives.
Tuesday’s deadline for all troops to leave was ordered by President Joe Biden, fulfilling an agreement reached with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump to end Washington’s 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 evacuation. They will leave behind thousands of Afghans who helped Western countries and might have qualified for evacuation but did not make it out in time.
The Taliban, who opressed women and governed violently when last in power 20 years ago, have said they will safeguard rights and not pursue vendettas. They say that once the Americans leave, the country will at last be at peace for the first time in more than 40 years.
But countless Afghans, especially in the cities, fear the militants will again prove as ruthless as before. And the United Nations said 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.”