Rocket Hits House Near Kabul Airport Amid New Attack Alert

A huge burst was reported late Sunday afternoon from the city's north, which a security officer in the fallen administration said was a missile hitting a house.

Rocket Hits House Near Kabul Airport Amid New Attack Alert
Rocket Hits House Near Kabul Airport Amid New Attack Alert

A suspected rocket blast in Kabul on Sunday, just hours after US Vice President Joe Biden warned of a new terror strike, heightened tensions in the capital as a large airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans neared its end. Since the Taliban retook power two weeks ago, over 114,000 people have fled the nation via a US-led evacuation, and the operation is winding down amid warnings from Western powers that others may be left behind.

On Thursday, a suicide bomber from the local chapter of the Islamic State group targeted US troops, preventing large groups of people from entering the airport, turning a chaotic and desperate operation into a bloodbath. The attack killed over 100 people, including 13 US service members, delaying the airlift ahead of Biden's deadline for evacuations to be completed by Tuesday. 

The Pentagon announced on Saturday that two "high-level" IS jihadists were killed in eastern Afghanistan as a result of retaliatory drone strikes, but Biden warned of additional attacks from the group."On the ground, the situation remains extraordinarily perilous, and the possibility of terrorist strikes on the airport remains high," Biden stated. "Our commanders informed me that an attack in the next 24-36 hours is highly likely." 

Later, the US embassy in Kabul issued a warning on credible threats to certain areas of the airport, including the access gates. A huge burst was reported late Sunday afternoon from the city's north, which a security officer in the fallen administration said was a missile hitting a house. More information was not immediately available.

The Islamic State's Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been blamed for some of the deadliest strikes in those countries in recent years. Civilians have been slaughtered in mosques, public spaces, schools, and even hospitals. IS and the Taliban are both strict Sunni Islamists, but they are bitter enemies, both claiming to be the legitimate flag-bearers of jihad. 

-Unprecedented cooperation 

The IS attack has compelled the US military and the Taliban to work together to assure airport security, which was unthinkable just two weeks ago. Taliban fighters took Afghans from buses to the main passenger terminal on Saturday, where they were handed over to US forces for evacuation. 

The military were visible throughout the civilian side of the airport grounds and annexe buildings, while US Marines on the passenger terminal roof kept an eye on them. 

After a 20-year conflict, the adversaries were within 30 metres of each other, separated by only 30 metres. The Taliban's "Badri" special soldiers were also handed to the now-defeated Afghan army, riding in American Humvees. The Taliban's spokesman, Bilal Karimi, stated that the group's militants had already moved into parts of the military side of the airport, but the Pentagon emphasised that US forces controlled the gates and the airlift. 

US troops have begun to evacuate, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, who would not specify how many were remaining. Biden was scheduled to attend a ceremony and meet with the victims' relatives on Sunday at an air force post in Delaware, where the remains of the servicemen killed in Kabul had been moved.

- 'Heartbreaking' -

Western allies that helped with the airlift have mostly already ended their flights, with some voicing despair at not being able to fly out everyone at risk.

The head of Britain's armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter, told the BBC it was "heartbreaking" that "we haven't been able to bring everybody out". A White House official said 2,900 people were evacuated in 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday, a drastic reduction from earlier in the week.

Two Afghan athletes were able to leave last weekend and spent a week in France before a "major global operation" took them to Japan for the Tokyo Paralympics. There was an emotional welcome for Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli at the athletes' village on Saturday night.

"There were lots of tears from everyone in the room," said International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence. Beyond Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron claimed discussions with the Taliban had begun to "protect and repatriate" at-risk Afghan people. 

On Monday, France and the United Kingdom will encourage the UN to work toward the formation of a "safe zone" in Kabul to protect humanitarian activities, he said. By the end of 2021, the UN expects a "worst-case scenario" of up to half a million more Afghan refugees, according to the UN. 

Thousands of people used to swarm the perimeter of the airport, hoping to be let through and onto a plane. The Taliban have now closed down all routes leading to the complex, allowing only authorised buses to pass.