KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. officials say an American drone strike has hit a vehicle carrying multiple Islamic State suicide bombers heading for the Kabul airport.
A military official said the strike on Sunday caused “significant secondary explosions” indicating the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material in the vehicle.
Two senior U.S. officials said the U.S. believes it was a successful strike and that the intended target was hit.
An Afghan official told The Associated Press that three children were also killed in the strike. Witnesses to the blast say several citizens were killed or wounded.
In a statement Sunday night, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Navy Capt. Bill Urban, said U.S. officials were aware of the reports of civilian casualties and were still investigating. Urban said the strike disrupted an imminent threat on the Kabul airport but added: "We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life."
This is the second airstrike the U.S. has conducted against the militant group, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing Thursday at the Kabul airport gate that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans struggling to get out of the country and escape the new Taliban rule.
There have been reports of an explosion at a house near the airport, but it wasn’t clear the two explosions were connected. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
The strikes come a day after the U.S. Embassy in Kabul urged Americans to “immediately” leave the airport Saturday due to a “specific, credible threat.”
In a security alert, the embassy said all U.S. citizens in the vicinity of the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) should leave, including those in the South (Airport Circle) gate, the new Ministry of the Interior, and the gate near the Panjshir Petrol station on the northwest side.
The alert also said U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and stay away from all airport gates as the threat is assessed.
Also, President Joe Biden announced Sunday afternoon that U.S. commanders informed him that another attack in Kabul is highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours. He said the situation on the ground continues to be extremely dangerous and the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high.
Biden said he has directed commanders to take every possible measure to prioritize force protection.
A White House official told reporters Saturday evening that a total of 2,000 people were evacuated from Kabul from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. A total of 11 U.S. military flights carried out 1,400 evacuees and seven coalition flights carried 600, the official said.
On Sunday, the U.S. State Department released a statement signed by around 100 countries, as well as NATO and the European Union, saying they had received “assurances” from the Taliban that people with travel documents would still be able to leave. The Taliban have said they will allow normal travel after the U.S. withdraws Tuesday.