Defense Secretary James Mattis was the target of a failed rocket attack near a key Afghanistan airport Wednesday, the Taliban said, though the attack occurred after he had left the airport.
Hours after Mattis landed, the rockets were fired at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport from an unknown location and landed in an open area, according to Najib Danish, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry. He did not reveal how many rockets were fired.
Mattis and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had already left the airport at the time of the incident, Danish said. No one was injured.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility and said Mattis’ plane was the target of the attack, the Taliban’s spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, tweeted.
Up to 40 rounds of munitions hit the airport, according to a US military official, 29 of which were rocket-propelled grenades. The nature of the other munitions was not immediately known.
The official said the munitions were fired toward a guard tower and hit the south side of the airport.
An Afghan special forces unit was searching houses close to the airport on the suspicion that the rockets were fired from them, Danish added.
Mattis’ unannounced visit Wednesday was his first trip to the country since US President Donald Trump announced ain late August.
At a press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Stoltenberg, Mattis said he had only heard some press reports but said “an attack on an airport anywhere in the world is a criminal act by terrorist.”
“If, in fact, this is what they have done, they will find the Afghan Security Forces continuing on the offensive against them in every district of the country right now,” Mattis added.
Mattis met with Afghan President Ghani at the Presidential Palace, alongside Stoltenberg and Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan.
Saying it was “refreshing” to be in the country alongside NATO’s leader, he said a “lot was riding” on Trump’s new strategy.
“A lot is riding on this of course as we look toward how do we put an end to this fighting and the threat of terrorism to the Afghan people, to the international community and how do we put this into a path of political reconciliation,” he said.
At the time, Trump said he was shifting the policy to take the emphasis off troop numbers, and would rely on greater regional cooperation to stabilize the security situation in Afghanistan.