Afghan Taliban ‘target’ plane carrying U.S. defense secretary Mattis

KABUL – U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis was the target of a failed rocket attack near a key Afghanistan airport Wednesday, the Taliban said in a statement.

Hours after Mattis landed, some 40-45 rockets were fired at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport from an unknown location and landed in an open area, according to Najib Danish, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry.

Mattis and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had already left the airport at the time of the incident, Danish said.

The south end of Camp Sullivan, a U.S. embassy compound near the international airport, was hit by what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenades or mortars, according to CNN.

A weapons depot caught fire during the assault, triggering explosions. Additional attackers fired small arms at three military entrances to the airport.

At least five civilians were wounded, officials said. Two U.S. and one Afghan military aircraft were reportedly damaged, along with a civilian plane.

In a statement, the Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it had targeted Mattis’s plane. Islamic State later issued a competing claim of responsibility.

Mattis and Stoltenberg were in Kabul on Wednesday to meet Afghan officials and discuss strategy for a war to which Donald Trump has tied the U.S. for an indefinite period.

This month Afghanistan received the first four U.S. Black Hawk helicopters as part of that plan. Under the Trump strategy, nearly 4,000 additional U.S. troops are expected to be deployed to Afghanistan.