Rockets hit Kabul airport as U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis visits Afghan captial

KABUL, Afghanistan — 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 James Mattis.

In response, the U.S. said it launched an airstrike that mistakenly caused an undisclosed number of civilian casualties.

An 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. It expressed regret for having harmed civilians but did not say whether any of the casualties were killed.

“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 added. The statement said the original Taliban attackers had fired several rounds of “high-explosive ammunition, including mortars, in the vicinity of” the Kabul airport.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack on his official Twitter account. The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) also claimed responsibility for the attack.

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 Afghan special forces left “four of the terrorists dead,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet that the “military section of the Kabul airport was hit with missiles; target was plane of U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis” and that “losses (were) caused” in the attack.

Ghani said during a joint press…

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