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Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Rockets Fired At Kabul Airport

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Taliban fighters investigate a damaged car after several rockets were fired at Kabul's airport on August 30.

KABUL -- A group aligned with Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for several rockets fired at Kabul's airport in the waning hours of a U.S.-led military operation to complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan of diplomats, foreign citizens, and Afghans who helped them over 20 years of war.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the August 30 attack, which comes the day before the United States is set to withdraw all its remaining forces from Afghanistan, drawing to a close its longest-lasting war.

Islamic State's Nasher News said on its Telegram channel that its militants, operating under Islamic State-Khorosan (IS-K), fired six Katyusha rockets at the airport.

Pentagon officials said at a briefing that five missiles were fired and that one was intercepted by anti-missile defenses. Another rocket landed inside the airport perimeter "with no effect,' Major General Hank Taylor said, adding that the other three landed outside the airport perimeter.

The missiles show that the United States is dealing with "very real ongoing threats" as the August 31 deadline for completing the withdrawal approaches, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

"We are in a particularly dangerous phase now," Kirby told reporters, adding that enemy combatants still had the capability to carry out attacks.

Kirby defended a drone strike on August 29 that hit a vehicle near the airport, saying it was carried out to remove "what we believed to be a very real a very specific and a very imminent threat" to the airlift.

The military is certain that there was a secondary explosion after the vehicle was hit, Kirby said.

The subsequent explosions indicate there was a large amount of explosive material inside the vehicle that may have caused additional casualties, U.S. Central Command said earlier in a statement.

Kirby did not dispute reports that the strike killed a number of civilians but said the military always tries to avoid civilian casualties. An investigation was under way and the Pentagon would be "transparent" with the results, he said.

A Taliban spokesman said the strike resulted in civilian casualties and chided the United States for failing to inform the militants before ordering the strike. The Tolo news agency said at least 10 civilians died in the air strike.

The drone strike was the second carried out by the U.S. military over the weekend.

The first killed two members of Islamic State-Khorosan (IS-K) on August 28 in eastern Afghanistan in retaliation for a deadly suicide bombing outside Kabul airport two days earlier. The group claimed responsibility for killing the bombing, which killed more than 170 people -- including 13 U.S. troops.

In recent years, IS-K has been behind some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While both IS and the Taliban are hard-line Sunni Islamist groups, they are bitter foes.

The Taliban has promised an inclusive government since sweeping back into power on August 15, and to exercise a softer brand of rule compared with their first regime in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

But many Afghans fear a repeat of the militants' brutal interpretation of Islamic law, as well as violent retribution for working with foreign militaries and missions and with the previous Western-backed government.

Late on August 29, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that the group's leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, was in the southern city of Kandahar.

A Taliban source said the Taliban was "preparing for a mass gathering after August 31 to discuss the future government in Afghanistan."

As evacuations from Kabul draw to a close, Biden's national-security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on August 29 that for those U.S. citizens seeking immediately to leave Afghanistan by the looming deadline, "we have the capacity to have 300 Americans, which is roughly the number we think are remaining, come to the airport and get on planes in the time that is remaining."

The U.S.-led airlift, the biggest air evacuation in history, has taken 122,000 foreigners and Afghans out of Kabul airport since it began in July, Kirby said. The vast majority have been airlifted out since the Taliban took control of the capital over two weeks ago. The updated number includes 5,400 Americans.

As the August 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden approaches, U.S. forces are now mostly focused on flying themselves and U.S. diplomats out safely.

International media reported on August 30 that "core" U.S. diplomatic staff had left Kabul, though they did not say whether this included top envoy Ross Wilson, who is expected to be among the last to leave before the final troops themselves.

Western allies have warned that thousands of at-risk Afghans have not been able to get on the evacuation flights by the United States and its allies.

But the United States and dozens of other countries have 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 will continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans, and we have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries," according to a joint statement published on the State Department website on August 29.

Russia was not among the signatories, but the Russian Embassy in Kabul said it was accepting applications from those seeking to leave Afghanistan on additional evacuation flights, after Moscow evacuated about 360 people from the country last week.

Later on August 30, the United States said it will host a virtual ministerial meeting with allies such as Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, Turkey, Qatar, the European Union, and NATO to discuss "an aligned approach [on Afghanistan] for the days and weeks ahead."

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that France and Britain plan to propose at a meeting of the UN Security Council's permanent members on August 30 a resolution "aimed at defining a safe zone in Kabul under UN control" that would allow for continued "humanitarian operations."

The permanent members of the Security Council are Russia, China, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom.

In Rome, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the Afghan crisis exposed the need for the bloc to set up a rapid-reaction force of about 5,000 soldiers to respond to similar events in future.

"As Europeans we have not been able to send 6,000 soldiers around the Kabul airport to secure the area. The U.S. have been, we haven't," Borrell told the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera in an interview.

This story includes reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP
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