Kabul, Aug 30: As many as five rockets were fired at Kabul's international airport but were intercepted by a missile defense system, a US official told Reuters, as the United States' nears the complete withdrawal of its troops from the city.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the rockets were fired early Monday morning Kabul time, though it was unclear if all were brought down by the defense system. Initial reports did not indicate any US casualties, but that information could change, the official said.
Earlier on Sunday, American forces launched a drone strike in Kabul targeting a suicide bomber in a vehicle who was aiming to attack the airport.
There is increasing concern that Islamic State militants will launch further attacks on the airport as US troops hurry to evacuate remaining American citizens and at-risk Afghans, before competing their own withdrawal by Aug. 31.
Officials had warned in the past that ISIS-K militants were looking to target the airport with rockets. But the United States has experience in countering such rockets, primarily in Iraq, and had already installed missile defense systems.
"We know that they (ISIS-K) would like to lob a rocket in there, if they could," General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told reporters in Washington last week.
"Now we actually have pretty good protection against that. We have our anti-rocket and mortar system," McKenzie said.
There is greater concern about suicide bombers and car bombs attacking the airport, after a suicide bomb attack on Thursday that killed scores of Afghans and 13 US service members.
On Saturday, US President Joe Biden said the situation on the ground remained extremely dangerous, and that his military chiefs had told him another militant attack was highly likely within the next 24-36 hours.
Biden had warned more attacks were highly likely, and the United States said it carried out an air strike on Sunday night in Kabul on an explosives-laden vehicle.
That was followed on Monday morning by the sound of rockets flying across Kabul, according to AFP journalists in the city.
People living near the airport said they heard the sounds of the missile defensive system being activated.
Smoke could be seen rising near the airport.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed Sunday's incident, saying a car bomb destined for the airport had been destroyed -- and that a possible second strike had hit a nearby house.
The United States has been accused of killing many civilians in air strikes throughout the war, one reason for losing local support, and that was again a possibility on Sunday.
"We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today," Captain Bill Urban, a US Central Command spokesman, said in a statement.
Urban said the US military was investigating whether civilians were killed, noting there were "powerful" explosions that resulted from the destruction of the vehicle.
"We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life," he said.
In recent years, the Islamic State's Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in those countries.
They have massacred civilians at mosques, public squares, schools, and even hospitals.
While both IS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamists, they are bitter foes -- with each claiming to be the true flag-bearers of jihad.
Last week's suicide bombing at the airport led to the worst single-day death toll for the US military in Afghanistan since 2011.
The IS threat has forced the US military and the Taliban to co-operate in ensuring security at the airport in a way unthinkable just weeks ago.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters escorted a steady stream of Afghans from buses to the main passenger terminal, handing them over to US forces for evacuation.
The Taliban have promised a softer brand of rule compared with their first stint in power, which the US military ended because they gave sanctuary to Al-Qaeda.
But many Afghans fear a repeat of the Taliban's brutal interpretation of Islamic law, as well as violent retribution for working with foreign militaries, Western missions or the previous US-backed government.
Western allies have warned many thousands of at-risk Afghans have not been able to get on the evacuation flights.
On Sunday, the Taliban revealed their supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was in southern Afghanistan and planning to make a public appearance.
"He is present in Kandahar. He has been living there from the very beginning," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
"He will soon appear in public," added deputy spokesman Bilal Karimi of the leader, whose whereabouts have remained largely unknown.