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US missile hits civilians in Kabul after Taliban airport attack

Taliban forces had targeted the plane of the US secretary of defense, who was visiting Afghanistan's president. One US missile malfunctioned in the response.

Helicopter flies over Kabul international airport in Afghanistan

A helicopter patrols after the attack on Kabul airport

A US missile injured an undisclosed number of civilians in Kabul after Taliban militants failed in their attempt to reportedly strike the plane of US defense secretary James Mattis near Kabul international airport on Wednesday.

Taliban fighters detonated suicide vests and fired mortar rounds at the airport, according to NATO and the spokesman for Afghanistan's interior ministry, Najib Danish. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote in a tweet that the "target was plane of US Defense Secretary Mattis." Mattis's plane was not damaged in the attack.

US troops aided Afghan special forces attempting to repel the attack by firing missiles at the Taliban militants. But in a statement, NATO said one of the missiles malfunctioned, "causing several casualties."

NATO did not say how many people were wounded by the missile, but added it "deeply regrets the harm to non-combatants." It said it would immediately investigate the circumstances of the attack and what caused the missile to malfunction.

Danish said one civilian was killed and 11 others injured in the initial attack. Four Taliban fighters were killed in a subsequent gun battle with Afghan special forces.

Mattis and NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, were meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the time to discuss a US-led NATO mission to bolster Afghanistan's military to allow NATO forces to eventually withdraw from the country.

Mattis and Stoltenberg denounced the attack at a joint press conference after the meeting. "We will not abandon Afghanistan to a merciless enemy trying to kill its way to power," Mattis said.

Both men also pledged continued US and NATO support to the Afghan government as it struggles to fight back a Taliban insurgency that has resulted in a stalemate. Stoltenberg said NATO would continue giving Afghan security forces $1 billion (850 million euros) each year.

As part of US President Donald Trump's new Afghanistan strategy, Mattis announced in mid-September that the US was sending an additional 3,000 soldiers to Afghanistan on top of the existing 11,000 US and 5,000 troops from other NATO countries that are already stationed in the country.

amp/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)

James Mattis, Jens Stoltenberg and president Ashraf Ghani

US defense secretary James Mattis was meeting with NATO Secretary- General Jens Stoltenberg and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the attack

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