A US drone strike has blown up a vehicle carrying “multiple suicide bombers” from Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate before reaching Kabul’s international airport, American officials said.
According to an anonymous Afghan official, three children were also killed in the strike on Sunday. US officials say the strike triggered secondary explosions due to the "substantial" amount of explosives in the vehicle.
The US officials said the bombers planned to attack Kabul's international airport, where a massive airlift is still under way ahead of a Tuesday deadline for the withdrawal of US forces.
The strike came as the US winds down a historic airlift that saw tens of thousands evacuated from the airport, the scene of much of the chaos that engulfed the Afghan capital since the Taliban took over two weeks ago.
After the Isis-K affiliate's suicide attack that killed more than 180 people, the Taliban increased security around the airfield as the UK ended evacuation flights on Saturday (local time).
Islamic State militants have emerged in Afghanistan as enemies both of the West and the Taliban.
Witnesses to the drone strike said it targeted two cars parked in a residential building near the airport, killing and wounding several civilians.
Karim, a district representative, said the strike ignited a fire that made it difficult to rescue people.
“There was smoke everywhere and I took some children and women out,” he said.
Ahmaduddin, a neighbour, said he had collected the bodies of children after the strike, which set off more explosions inside the house. Like many Afghans, the two men each go by one name.
The US has yet to comment on the reported civilian casualties. US Navy Capt. Bill Urban had earlier stated there was "no indication" of such loss of life.
“We are confident we successfully hit the target,” Urban said.
US President Joe Biden had vowed to keep up the airstrikes, saying Saturday another attack was “highly likely.” The State Department called the threat “specific” and “credible.”
National security officials have warned Kabul is in the midst of an “exceedingly dangerous moment” ahead of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
“We are doing everything in our power to prevent and disrupt the threat streams that we are seeing and stopping any kind of attack that would endanger the lives of American service members or civilians trying to get into the airport,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN.
"We are in a period of serious danger given what we are seeing in the intelligence."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC the ongoing evacuation is "extraordinarily dangerous".
The US State Department released a statement signed by around 100 countries, as well as NATO and the European Union, saying they had received “assurances” from the Taliban that people with travel documents would still be able to leave the country.
The Taliban have said they will allow normal travel after the US withdrawal is completed on Tuesday and they assume control of the airport.
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