KABUL, Afghanistan — The Latest on developments in Afghanistan (all times local):
The U.S. military says it conducted an airstrike in Afghanistan that mistakenly caused an undisclosed number of civilian casualties.
The airstrike was launched in response to a Taliban attack at or near the international airport in Kabul on Wednesday. The insurgents said they were aiming for the aircraft of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was visiting the capital. His plane was not hit.
In a statement later, the U.S. military command in Kabul said one of the missiles it fired in response to the Taliban attack had malfunctioned. It did not explain further. It said the missile caused several civilian casualties, but it did not say whether anyone was killed.
The U.S. expressed regret for the civilian casualties and said the missile malfunction is under investigation.
NATO’s secretary-general says the Taliban attack on the Kabul airport in which the insurgents claimed to have targeted the plane of visiting U.S. secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, was a “terrorist attack” that shows the militants’ “weakness.”
Jens Stoltenberg spoke to The Associated Press shortly after the attack on Wednesday. Both he and Mattis were not at the airport at the time of the assault but were meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.
In the interview with the AP, Stoltenberg said the “attack on the airport is a sign of weakness, not the sign of strength.” He added that to “attack a civilian airport is a criminal act, it is terrorist act and it just shows the importance of fighting these kind of organizations in Afghanistan.”
He stressed the importance of fighting extremists as the best way to ensure “they are not able to expand and to go beyond Afghanistan and launch new attacks against other countries, including NATO countries.”
Afghan officials say one woman was killed and 11 other civilians were wounded when Taliban rockets hit the Kabul airport earlier in the day.
The insurgents have said they targeted the plane of visiting U.S. secretary of defense, Jim Mattis in Wednesday’s attack. Mattis was not at the airport at the time of the attack but was meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish says two of the rockets hit two civilian houses near the airport. Earlier, Afghan officials said the insurgents fired up to about six projectiles at and near the airport.
Danish says “four of the terrorists” were killed in a gunbattle that followed the attack.
The Taliban are saying that they specifically targeted the plane of the U.S. secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, in an attack earlier in the day on the Kabul airport.
According to Afghan officials, the insurgents fired up to about six projectiles at and near the airport, with one hitting a civilian house nearby on Wednesday.
Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg were not at the airport at the time but were meeting in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
It was not immediately clear if Mattis’ plane was damaged in the attack, which prompted a shootout with the insurgents. Najib Danish, spokesman for the Afghan interior minister, said “three terrorists were killed by the Afghan security forces” before the exchange was over. He said 11 Afghan civilians were also wounded.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet that the “military section of the Kabul airport was hit with missiles; target was plane of U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis” and that “losses (were) caused” in the attack.
Ghani said during a joint press conference with Mattis and Stoltenberg that Afghan special forces troops quickly brought the attack under control. Mattis called the attack a crime.
An Afghan official says hundreds of Taliban insurgents have attacked a security post in the western Farha province, killing at least 10 police and threatening to overrun the position.
Wednesday’s attack came as U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited Afghanistan to pledge their continued support to Afghan security forces, who have struggled in recent years against a resurgent Taliban.
Hakim Noori, the governor of the Pusht Rod district, said almost three hundred Taliban fighters took part in the attack, which began Tuesday night. He said the insurgents mined the area around the base to prevent authorities from sending in reinforcements.
Farid Bakhtawar, the head of the provincial council, confirmed that 10 police were killed and said the position would be overrun if reinforcements do not arrive soon.
A rocket attack earlier Wednesday on Kabul’s international airport that seemed to be timed to coincide with the official visit wounded 11 civilians. Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said authorities responded to the attack and killed three “terrorists.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have pledged their continued support to Afghanistan and vowed to do everything so the country “doesn’t again become a safe haven for international terrorists.”
The two, who are in Kabul for a visit on Wednesday, held a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Stoltenberg says NATO is aware of “the cost of staying in Afghanistan, but the cost of leaving would be even higher.”
He stressed that “if NATO forces leave too soon, there is a risk that Afghanistan may return to a state of chaos and once again become a safe haven for international terrorism.”
Stoltenberg also said NATO was committed to funding the Afghan security forces until at least 2020, and would continue to provide almost a billion dollars each year to the Afghan defense and security forces.
Mattis pledged that “through our partnership, we will suffocate any hope that al-Qaida or ISIS, Daesh, Haqqani or the Taliban have of winning by killing,” referring to the militant groups operating in Iraq.
The U.S. official added that he wanted “to reinforce to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement” and stressed that Washington supports Afghan-led reconciliation efforts as “the solution to this conflict.
He added that “the sooner the Taliban recognizes they cannot win with bombs, the sooner the killing will end.”
The spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry says at least five civilians have been wounded in a rocket attack at Kabul’s international airport.
Najib Danish says one rocket hit a nearby home, injuring the five, including at least one woman.
The attack comes as U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg are in Kabul for a visit and were scheduled to hold a joint news conference with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
Ghani says special forces troops have brought the attack under control.
Mattis called the attack a crime.
An Afghan official says at least six mortar rounds have landed in the eastern part of the Kabul international airport.
Najib Danish, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, says Wednesday there are no reports of casualties from the attack.
Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack on his official Twitter account.
The attack comes as U.S. secretary of Defense James Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg are in Kabul for a visit and were scheduled to hold a joint news conference with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
Tumor Shah Hamedi, director of the Kabul airport, says all flights have been halted as result of the mortar attack at the airport.