Civilians hurt by US airstrike responding to Taliban attack

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban unleashed a barrage of rockets at the Kabul international airport on Wednesday in a brazen attack that the insurgents said targeted the plane of visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. In response, the U.S. said it launched two missiles, one of which missed its intended target and killed at least one Afghan civilian.

Afghan officials said one Afghan woman was killed and 11 civilians were wounded in the Taliban attack. Afghan special forces managed to repel the attackers, killing four in an ensuing gunbattle, officials said.

Later, the U.S. military issued a statement saying that it had responded with an airstrike.

“Tragically, one of the missiles malfunctioned, causing several casualties,” the U.S. command said.

Navy Capt. William Salvin, spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition, said in a telephone interview that the U.S. fired two Hellfire missiles. One struck its intended target, a building from which the insurgents had launched their mortar attack. The other one was programmed to hit the same target but went astray for unknown reasons, Salvin said.

At least one Afghan civilian was killed by the malfunctioning Hellfire and an undetermined number of other civilians were wounded, Salvin said.

In its written statement, the U.S.-led coalition expressed regret for the civilian casualties.

“We take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, even as the enemies of Afghanistan continue to operate in locations that deliberately put civilians at very high risk,” it said. The statement said the original Taliban attackers had fired several rounds of high-explosive ammunition, including mortars, in the vicinity of the Kabul airport.

The U.S. statement said the insurgents also detonated suicide vests, “endangering a great number of civilians.”

Mattis was meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the time of the attack, along with visiting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Mattis’ plane was not hit.

The attack — both its location, the Kabul airport, and the purported target, a visiting U.S. official’s plane — underscored the ability of the insurgents to still stage high-profile attacks despite Afghan security forces’ struggle to stem Taliban gains.

Najib Danish, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the Taliban fired up to about six projectiles at and near the airport, hitting both the international and the military sector of the sprawling hub and also two civilian houses nearby. The gunbattle with…

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