US forces launched a drone strike targeting an “imminent Isis-K threat” near Kabul airport on Sunday, hours after Britain withdrew its final forces from Afghanistan at the end of a two-decade military campaign.
Witnesses said the strike hit two cars parked close to a residential building near the airport. An Afghan official said that three children had died in the attack. A senior US official said the military drone fired a Hellfire missile at a vehicle in a compound between two buildings after individuals were seen loading explosives into the trunk.
It raises further fears for the safety of up to 1,100 Afghans eligible for rescue by Britain who were unable to escape on the final RAF airlift on Saturday, as well as the few remaining US troops.
Washington has warned that further terrorist attacks on the airport are “highly likely” after at least 169 Afghans and 13 US military personnel were killed in a suicide attack on Thursday for which Isis-K claimed responsibility.
The US carried out a retaliatory strike on Saturday in Nangarhar province that killed an Isis member believed to have been involved in planning attacks in Kabul.
It came as President Joe Biden was at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to watch the flag-draped coffins of 13 troops being taken from a US Air Force C-17 aircraft.
US Central Command confirmed to The Independent that its forces conducted a drone strike on a vehicle that other officials said were “multiple suicide bombers” headed for the airport.
“US military forces conducted a self-defence unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent Isis-K threat to Hamad Karzai International Airport,” said Captain Bill Urban.
“We are confident we successfully hit the target. Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that the US strike on Sunday had targeted a suicide bomber in a vehicle loaded with explosives.
Reports that the vehicle was bound with suicide bombers headed for the airport would corroborate the warnings from the White House over the past few days indicating that more attacks like the one Thursday were possible in the remaining hours of the US evacuation effort.
“The situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous, and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high," Mr Biden said on Saturday. "Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours.”
The Taliban has increased its security around the airport as Britain ended its largest evacuation mission since the Second World War, after airlifting more than 15,000 British nationals and allied personnel to safety in under a fortnight.
US military cargo planes continued their runs into the airport on Sunday, ahead of a Tuesday deadline set by Mr Biden to withdraw all US troops from America’s longest war.
The State Department released a joint statement on Sunday morning alongside the foreign ministries of dozens of other nations declaring that the Taliban had issued assurances that US personnel and Afghans would be allowed to continue leaving the country in the days ahead, even as the deadline for the withdrawal of US combat forces approaches.
“We are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan. We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorisation from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country,” read the statement.