A rocket attack on an international airport in Kabul barely missed Defense Secretary James Mattis, who landed there on a surprise visit Wednesday.
Both the Taliban and ISIS are taking credit for the attack, which consisted of a barrage of rounds of munitions on the airport, and suicide attacks.
A Taliban commander told NBC that the target was Mattis, and that they were tipped off by insiders in the Afghan security establishment and at the airport, where hundreds of U.S. and coalition personnel live and work.
Mattis left the airport just two hours before the attack took place, according to several reports.
BREAKING: US officials say 40-45 rockets landed at Kabul Int'l Airport in Afghanistan about 2 hours after Mattis arrived, but had left area
— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) September 27, 2017
The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, known as Resolute Support, issued a statement confirming the attack.
“During a failed attack today, insurgents fired several rounds of high-explosive ammunition, including mortars, into the vicinity of Hamid Karzai International Airport and detonated suicide vests endangering a great number of civilians,” a statement from the U.S.-led military coalition said.
The coalition said some civilians were killed when Resolute Support conducted an airstrike and one of the missiles malfunctioned, causing several casualties.
Insurgents attack near Hamid Karzai International Airport, using civilians as shield and cover. pic.twitter.com/BQ9gK0QUz9
— Resolute Support (@ResoluteSupport) September 27, 2017
Mattis at a press conference elsewhere in Kabul called the attack a “criminal act by terrorists” and the reason why the U.S. is fighting the Taliban.
“It’s designed to go after generally innocent people to make some sort of statement,” he 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,” he explained. “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.”
This is Mattis’s first trip to Afghanistan since the Trump administration announced its new strategy and an increase of more than 3,000 U.S. troops there.
The U.S. hopes to bolster the training and advising of Afghan forces to break a military stalemate against the Taliban.
The new mission is open-ended, without a withdrawal date, which the administration hopes will convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
At the same time, the administration hopes to continue building the Afghan government’s capacity to govern, try to pressure Pakistan to stop providing safe haven to the Taliban and other terrorist groups, and work with India to strengthen Afghanistan’s economy.