KABUL (August 30, 2021)— The United States conducted an airstrike Sunday against a vehicle that posed a threat to the Kabul airport, and the U.S. Central Command is now looking into reports of civilian casualties.
“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul,” Captain Bill Urban, CENTCOM spokesperson, said in a statement Sunday night.
The U.S. is investigating and, “We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life,” Urban said.
Earlier Sunday the military said its forces struck a vehicle, “eliminating an imminent ISIS-K (Islamic State Khorasan) threat to Hamad Karzai International airport.”
In his statement Sunday night, Urban said the results of the airstrike are still being assessed and that the secondary explosions “may have caused additional casualties. It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further.”
According to reporting in The New York Times, the drone strike or the secondary explosions killed as many as nine civilians, among them children.
Dina Mohammadi said her extended family resided in the building and that several of them were killed, including children, according to the Associated Press. She was not immediately able to provide the names or ages of the deceased.
Karim, a district representative, said the strike ignited a fire that made it difficult to rescue people. “There was smoke everywhere and I took some children and women out,” he said.
Ahmaduddin, a neighbor, said he had collected the bodies of children after the strike, which set off more explosions inside the house, AP reported.
Airlift winds down
The evacuation has airlifted about 120,00 people out of Kabul since the end of July, according to the White House as of early Sunday morning, and it is facing a Tuesday deadline.
“This is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission, these last couple of days,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
Republican U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, also on ABC, criticized the Biden administration’s evacuation operations.
“There is clearly no plan. There has been no plan. Their plan has basically been happy talk,” he said.
Blinken said in an interview on CNN that about 300 American citizens are seeking evacuation from Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at a briefing Saturday that threats against the airport “are still very real, they’re very dynamic, and we are monitoring them literally in real time. And, as I said yesterday, we are taking all the means necessary to make sure we remain focused on that threat stream and doing what we can for force protection.”
The security threats have made the evacuation of Americans and some Afghans more difficult.
“There doesn’t appear to be any concerted effort to get SIVs (Special Immigrant Visa holders) out at this point,” a State Department official told VOA from the airport. But the department is still trying to evacuate local embassy staff, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
The U.S. evacuation of Afghans at the airport has wound down significantly, with most of the remaining 100 American civilian government staffers set to leave before midnight, according to a State Department official who spoke with VOA Saturday on the condition of anonymity.
The airport terminals are mostly empty, said the official, who expressed mixed feelings about the operation.
“I feel the frustration of the failure of the operation overall,” said the official, who described the decision-making process of getting Afghans evacuated as “chaotic” and “subjective.”
“But I’m extremely proud of the work of the guys on the ground, just the kind of bare-knuckled diplomacy of getting to know the Afghans, even though some of us didn’t know the language,” the official said.
VOA White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.