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Afghanistan: US fire hits civilians after Taliban tries to down Mattis’s plane

US forces in Afghanistan killed and injured civilians as they lashed out in response to a failed Taliban attack on their country's defence secretary and the head of Nato.

The Taliban artillery attack was aimed at a plane carrying Pentagon chief General James Mattis to Kabul, along with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, but the pair were not at the airport at the time.

The US military admitted on Wednesday night that one of two missiles fired back at militants had missed its target, killing at least one civilian and wounding an undetermined number of others.

A US-led military coalition spokesman said the US forces fired two Hellfire missiles — typically mounted on attack helicopters or armed drone aircraft — at a building from which the insurgents had launched their mortar attack.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said the Taliban fired up to about six projectiles at and near the airport, hitting both the international and military areas and two civilian houses nearby. One woman was killed and 11 other civilians were injured by the Taliban shelling.

An ensuing gunbattle with Afghan special forces left "four of the terrorists dead," he said.

The US-led Nato mission said in a statement that it “deeply regrets the harm to non-combatants,” and “ takes 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.”

However in July this year, the UN warned that civilian deaths in Afghanistan had reached a record high since the war began 16 years ago with increased air strikes by US and Afghan forces contributing to the high death toll.

The UN reported that casualties from the air had risen by 43 per cent in the first six months of 2017 compared to the same period last year.

Mr Mattis and Mr Stoltenberg were meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the time of the attack.

Both pledged continued support for the government so the country "doesn't again become a safe haven for international terrorists."

Mr Stoltenberg claimed: "If Nato forces leave too soon, there is a risk that Afghanistan may return to a state of chaos and once again become a safe haven for international terrorism."

He also said Nato was committed to funding the Afghan security forces until at least 2020, and would continue to provide them almost $1 billion (£743 million) each year.

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