Taliban claims it targeted US defense chief’s plane in attack on Kabul airport

The Taliban and ISIS are both taking credit for a rocket attack on Kabul airport early Wednesday just hours after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis landed in Afghanistan for a surprise visit.

A barrage of up to 40 rounds of munitions hit the airport, including 29 rocket-propelled grenades, according to U.S. military officials.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesperson Najib Danish said later that three people allegedly involved in the attack were killed by Afghan special forces in an operation close to the airport.

Mattis had left the airport hours before the attack took place. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, also in Afghanistan, was similarly out of harm’s way when the rockets hit.

Egdanis Torres Sierra/Handout/EPA
U.S. General John Nicholson, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, salutes to U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis upon arrival at NATO’s headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2017.

No U.S. personnel were injured, but Afghan Interior Ministry spokesperson Najib Danish said five Afghan civilians were wounded in the incident. Three attackers were killed by Afghan special forces in an operation near the airport, Danish said.

According to media reports, Kabul airport chief Yaqub Rassouli said airplane hangars and some helicopters were also damaged.

A Taliban spokesman tweeted that the attack was aimed at the secretary’s plane.

ISIS also claimed responsibility for the rocket barrage.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said at a press conference that his country’s special forces are “dealing with” the incident.

Mattis, standing with Ghani, called the attack a “criminal act by terrorists.”

“It’s designed to go after generally innocent people to make some sort of statement,” the U.S. defense chief said. “This is a classic definition of what the Taliban are up to right now. It defines their approach to how they see their role here and 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. So it is what it is, but it’s also the reason why we band together, and we don’t question what we’re doing here.”

Mohammad Ismail/Reuters
Afghan policemen stand guard outside of Kabul Airport after rockets exploded in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2017.

This is Mattis’s first trip to Afghanistan since President Donald Trump announced a new South Asia strategy that will send an additional 3,000 U.S. troops to…

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