Multiple Afghan news organizations reported on Monday that an airstrike in Kabul ordered by President Joe Biden appeared to have killed at least ten civilians, including several children.
The strike reportedly targeted members of the Islamic State and the Pentagon has stated it is currently investigating the accusations.
President Joe Biden confirmed in a statement Saturday evening (Sunday Afghan time) that the U.S. military had conducted airstrikes in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan this weekend, even as Biden’s August 31 deadline for a military evacuation of the country inched closer. The airstrikes reportedly targeted the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), the Afghan/Pakistani wing of the international jihadist organization.
Both the Biden administration and the Taliban, currently the de facto ruling government of Afghanistan, blamed the Islamic State for suicide bombings at Kabul’s international airport last week that killed over 100 people, including at least 13 American servicemen and women. ISIS-K also took responsibility for the attack in a propaganda message.
The Taliban claims ISIS-K is a longtime enemy of its movement, despite both being Sunni Muslim terrorist organizations. The Taliban had largely subdued the ISIS-K presence in the country in past years in response to ISIS terrorists attempting to take over the Taliban’s lucrative poppy fields, used to cultivate opium and develop heroin.
The attack targeted a large crowd of Afghan citizens who had congregated outside of the airport desperately seeking to make it onto foreign military evacuation flights, fleeing the newly installed Taliban regime. The Taliban took over Kabul – and thus the entire nation – on August 15, following former President Ashraf Ghani’s rapid departure from the country.
“This strike was not the last. We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay,” Biden’s statement read in part.
Afghan news outlets initially documented the aftermath of the strike’s explosions, which American officials stated were meant to target ISIS-K suicide bombers reportedly on the way to the Kabul airport to execute a terrorist attack:
کابل – گواهان رویداد میگویند چندین موشک با استفاده از یک موتر از منطقه خیرخانه به سمت فرودگاه کابل شلیک شده اند.
— Ariana News (@ArianaNews_) August 30, 2021
The Afghan television news network Tolo News reported on Monday that the explosions killed “at least 10 people, including children,” citing locals in the Kabul neighborhood affected. The outlet also published photos of what appeared to be the aftermath of the attack:
At least 10 people, including children, were killed in a US airstrike in #Kabul on Sunday, local residents say. US officials said they had targeted a car carrying Daesh suicide bombers. pic.twitter.com/4oltmedJDA
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 30, 2021
Khaama Press, another Afghan news organization, similarly reported the deaths of ten civilians. Its original photos appear to show the same hollowed-out car and wreckage following the bombing:
شماری از باشندهگان محل میگویند که در پی حمله هوایی روز یکشنبه نیروهای امریکایی در کابل دست کم ده تن به شمول کودکان کشته شدهاند.
نیروهای امریکایی اما گفته اند که آنان یک موتر را که حمله کنندگان انتحاری داعش را انتقال میداد هدف قرار دادند. pic.twitter.com/ZyAxzWZyzP
— Khaama Press (KP) (@khaama) August 30, 2021
Khaama’s initial news report claimed the airstrike killed seven civilians, including five children.
“The rocket hit a house in Police District 15 of Kabul city Sunday afternoon, August 29. Local residents and eyewitnesses said that the rocket hit two cars parked in the house which caught fire and inflicted casualties,” Khaama reported.
“There was too much dark in the house, there were fogs everywhere, I saw the flesh of children hung in the trees and lifted the half bodies myself.” an alleged witness identified only as “Ghaws,” said of the attack.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for American military activities in Afghanistan, issued a statement on Sunday saying it would investigate the alleged civilian deaths. It noted that several other explosions followed the initial blast, likely a result of the explosives the suicide bombers were wearing detonating in response to the strike.
“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today. We are still assessing the results of this strike, which we know disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat to the airport,” CENTCOM spokesman U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement. “We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle … It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further.”
“We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life,” Urban added.
Reports of violence in Kabul continued following the strikes. Multiple local and international outlets confirmed a multiple-rocket attack on Kabul’s international airport on Monday. Anonymous reports indicated that an implemented missile defense system prevented the attack from causing any casualties.
Tolo News reported on Friday, prior to the strike against the alleged ISIS-K terrorists in Kabul, a separate American military operation struck an ISIS target in eastern Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, killing an alleged jihadist attack planner and not incurring any civilian casualties.
In addition to vowing more American strikes before the U.S. military reportedly leaves on August 31, Biden claimed in his weekend statement, “an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.”
“I directed them to take every possible measure to prioritize force protection, and ensured that they have all the authorities, resources and plans to protect our men and women on the ground,” Biden said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Monday that Biden’s order to do “whatever is necessary to protect our forces on the ground” remained in vigor, less than 24 hours to the August 31 deadline.
Biden imposed that deadline after breaking a deal with the Taliban in April that would have seen troops leave the country on May 1. That agreement, the product of months of negotiations between the Taliban and the administration of former President Donald Trump, required the Taliban to cease attacks on the United States and cut ties to international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda. Biden initially broke the deal to establish a September 11 deadline – marking the 20th anniversary of the jihadist attacks that prompted the Afghan War – but later changed the deadline to August 31. The Taliban responded by launching a nationwide violent campaign against the then-Afghan government to retake the country that ended in victory on August 15.
Update: Tolo News identified several of the victims of the bombing later on Monday, including some of the children. On the list of those killed are children identified as “Five-year-old Armin, three-year-old Benjamin, two-year-old Somiya, 15-year-old Faiz [and] eight-year-old Farzad.” Two others, an 18-year-old and four adults, also appeared on Tolo News’ list.
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 30, 2021