A US drone strike in Kabul, which the Pentagon said destroyed a vehicle carrying suicide bombers, killed 10 members of a family, including six children, a relative has said.
American officials claimed the airstrike on Sunday afternoon had eliminated “an imminent Isis-K threat to Hamad Karzai airport”, where a fraught international effort to rescue thousands of Nato troops and vulnerable allies from Afghanistan’s new Taliban regime was drawing to a close.
A senior US official said a missile had been fired at a vehicle in a compound between two buildings, after individuals were seen loading explosives into the boot.
But as footage showed black smoke rising from a residential building northwest of the airport, reports began to emerge of at least three civilian deaths, citing an Afghan police chief. A statement released concurrently by US army Captain Bill Urban said: “We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time.”
By Monday morning, the alleged civilian death toll had risen higher still. Speaking to the BBC from Kabul, a man named Ramin Yousufi described losing 10 relatives in the blast.
Mr Yousufi said his cousin – a 40-year-old charity worker and “the head of our family” – had returned home from work and was outside with his children when the drone hit the car. He died in the blast alongside nine other members of his family, including a 19-year-old and six children, the youngest aged two, Mr Yousufi said.
Speaking of his cousin, “who served for two decades the poor people” in the north of Afghanistan and Kabul, Mr Yousufi asked: “How is it he can be part of Daesh or a suicide attack? It’s not possible.”
Becoming choked with emotion, Mr Yousufi said: “We’ve seen hell in our life. We gathered parts of our [family] members in our hands. How is this possible?”
“They killed our family, our children,” he said. “They are all burned out. We can not now define their face, their body”
He added: “It’s wrong, it’s a brutal attack, and it’s happened based on wrong information.”
Emal Ahmadi, another relative, said it was his two-year-old daughter who was killed in the strike, according to the BBC. He said the family had applied for evacuation and was waiting to go to the airport.
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CNN also independently reported that nine members of a family – including six children – died in the blast, quoting a brother of one of those killed.
Another neighbour told the US news organisation that they estimated that there might have been up to 20 people killed in the strike, adding: “Not much is left of their house and nothing can be recognised, they are in pieces.”
The Associated Press had earlier carried comments from a district representative in Kabul, who said the airstrike ignited a fire that made it difficult to rescue people. “There was smoke everywhere and I took some children and women out,” he said.
A neighbour called Ahmaduddin told the news agency he had collected the bodies of children after the strike, which set off more explosions inside the house.
In a statement published on Sunday night, the US military acknowledged the reports of civilian deaths and said it was investigating further, adding: “We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”
“We are still assessing the results of this strike, which we know disrupted an imminent Isis-K threat to the airport,” said Captain Urban, of US Central Command. “We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties.”
On Monday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby defended the intelligence about “what we believed to be a very real, a very specific and a very imminent threat” as he told reporters: “Make no mistake, no military on the face of the earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the United States military, and nobody wants to see innocent life taken.
Afghan residents and family members of the victims gather next to a damaged vehicle (AFP/Getty)
The drone strike came just three days after a suicide bombing at Kabul airport, claimed by Isis-K, took the lives of as many as 170 Afghan civilians and 13 American troops.
Following the bombing of Kabul’s airport on Thursday, the US president had warned on Saturday that he had been advised another terror attack was highly likely within the next 24 to 36 hours.
On Monday, as Washington prepared to cede control of Kabul airport to the Taliban on Tuesday, bringing its longest-ever war to a grim close, Isis-K claimed responsibility for six new rocket attacks, reportedly launched from the back of a vehicle.
US officials said that anti-missile defences intercepted five missiles heading for the airport, but reports suggested some rocket fire struck a nearby neighbourhood. It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties.
Thousands of Afghans are fearing Taliban reprisals after the US withdrawal, others in Kabul reported concerns at the threat of continued violence from Isis.
Speaking from close to the wreckage of the car from which the rockets were reported to have been launched on Monday, Kabul resident Farogh Danish told the Associated Press: “People are terrified and worried about the future, worried that the rocket launching might continue.”