Rockets Target U.S. Troops as Core Diplomats Fly Out of Kabul

(Reuters) -
U.K. military personnel board an A400M aircraft departing Kabul, Saturday. (Jonathan Gifford/UK MOD Crown copyright 2021/Handout via Reuters)

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 pull out of Kabul by Tuesday, after they and their allies mounted the biggest air
evacuation in history, which brought out 114,000 of their own citizens and Afghans who helped them over 20 years of war.

Two U.S. officials said the “core” diplomatic staff had withdrawn by Monday morning.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.

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.

The rockets followed a massive Islamic State suicide bombing outside the teeming airport gates on Thursday, which 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, including one on Sunday it said thwarted an attempted suicide bombing by blowing up a car packed with explosives in Kabul, but which Afghans said had struck civilians.

Tuesday’s deadline for troops to leave was set 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 carried out public executions 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 at last 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 said the entire country
now faces a dire humanitarian crisis, cut off from foreign aid amid a drought, mass displacement and COVID-19.

A Pakistani plane flew 12.5 tons of World Health Organization medical emergency and trauma kits on Monday to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the WHO’s first supplies to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.

Afghanistan’s healthcare system is at risk of collapse, two aid agencies told Reuters, after foreign donors including the
World Bank and European Union stopped providing aid following the Taliban’s victory.

Afghan media said Monday’s rocket attack was launched from the back of a vehicle. The Pajhwok news agency said several rockets struck different parts of the Afghan capital.

“People are terrified and worried about the future, worried that the rocket launching might continue,” said Farogh Danish, a Kabul resident near the wreckage of the car from which the rockets were launched.

On Sunday, Pentagon officials said a U.S. drone strike  killed an Islamic State suicide car bomber preparing to attack
the airport. The Taliban condemned the strike and said seven people died.  U.S. Central Command said it was investigating reports that civilians were killed.

“We know 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 said.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters evacuations would continue on Monday, prioritizing people deemed at extreme risk. Other countries have also put in last-minute requests to bring out people in that category, the officials 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.