'Rocket attack' at airport as United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders land

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley

Up to 20 rockets have struck the airport and surrounding areas in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul hours after US Defense Secretary James Mattis and NATO's General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg arrived in the country on an unannounced visit.

The Interior Ministry said one Afghan civilian was killed and at least 11 others were injured after an insurgent rocket hit a house near the combined civil and military airport.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote in a tweet that the "target was plane of US Defense Secretary Mattis".

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis made an unannounced stop in Kabul, which has resulted in his first Afghanistan visit since President Trump expanded military action - including the deployment of thousands of US troops within days - in the country.

Interviewed by The Washington Post, Ahmad Saeedi, now a political analyst who previously served as an Afghan diplomat, said only a few top people knew about the visit by Mattis and Stoltenberg-suggesting that the rocket attack was a serious security breach.

President Trump has recently announced a new strategy for Afghanistan, recommitting to the country and declaring during a prime-time address back in August that US troops must "fight to win".

Mattis, who arrived from India, where he sought support for the USA administration's new South Asia security plan, said Washington supports a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and Afghanistan.

Under Trump's plan, the USA is sending more than 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 11,000 already on the ground, to train and advise the country's security forces.

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At a press conference with Stoltenberg and Ghani at the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, Mattis said "an attack on an airport anywhere in the world is a criminal act by terrorist".

The foreign assistance would give Afghan forces a "compelling battlefield advantage over anything the Taleban stands to mass against" it, Mattis told reporters.

The visit comes as Afghanistan's security forces struggle to defeat the Taliban. We take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, even as the enemies of Afghanistan continue to operate in locations that deliberately put civilians at very high risk,"the statement added".

The U.S. statement said the insurgents also detonated suicide vests, "endangering a great number of civilians".

The strategy will also make greater use of USA air power to support Afghan forces and strike the Taliban, a strategy that carries the risk of an increase in civilian casualties.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation chief Jens Stoltenberg said "his organization does not want Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists again and the organization's troops are here to make the country safer along with safeguarding North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance countries".

"With President Trump's recent announcement of his strategy to counter terror and stabilize South Asia, Afghanistan's enduring partnership with the United States and the worldwide community has been renewed and redirected", he said.

The gunbattle with Afghan special forces left 'four of the terrorists dead, ' he said.

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