A series of suicide bombings and militant raids in Afghanistan has killed dozens of people, a day after construction work on the much-awaited Afghan section of an international gas pipeline began.
An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman said a suicide bomber Saturday blew himself up near a security post in Kabul, killing at least three people and wounding several others.
The Islamic State terrorist group claimed it plotted the violence in the capital city.
Officials said the deadliest of the several attacks occurred in western Farah province, where Taliban insurgents in a pre-dawn assault killed at least 20 government forces before capturing their base in Bala Baluk district.
Separately, two early morning suicide bombings targeted Afghan forces in the troubled Helmand province.
The first attack occurred in the Nad Ali district where a driver in an explosives-packed armored personnel vehicle, known as a Humvee, targeted an Afghan National Army base. Officials citing initial reports confirmed the blast killed at least four soldiers and wounded several others.
A Taliban statement claimed responsibility, saying the attack destroyed the base and killed at least 25 Afghan soldiers, though insurgents often issue inflated tolls.
Just hours later, a vehicle-born bomb was detonated in the provincial capital of Lashkargah, killing at least one person and wounding nine others, including civilians, according to officials.
The Taliban insisted the target was an office of the Afghan intelligence agency, and that the bomb killed several security personnel.
Visiting U.S. permanent representative to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, while speaking to reporters in Kabul, condemned what she said was a “fruitless” effort by the Taliban and called on the insurgents to join an Afghan peace process.
“We are not going to stand by and let Afghanistan be riven with violence again. So, we hope that the Taliban will see that this is a no-win game for them unless they come to the table and become part of something that would make Afghanistan stronger,” noted Hutchison.
Farah and Helmand are among the provinces located on the route of a regional pipeline being constructed to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. The multi-billion dollar project, known as TAPI, is expected to be fully operational within next two years.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday hosted leaders from the participating nations in the western border city of Herat where they jointly inaugurated construction work on the portion of the pipeline passing through Afghanistan.
President Ghani, who was still in Herat on Saturday condemned the violence.
“At a time when Afghans are celebrating the TAPI project, enemies of our homeland and people have martyred a number of our countrymen in terrorist attacks in Kabul, Helmand and Farah,” Ghani told a meeting of provincial officials and business leaders.
The message for enemies of Afghanistan is that such attacks strengthen the government’s resolve to fight terrorism and bring economic stability for its people, he added.
The Taliban in a statement issued Friday pledged to protect the TAPI pipeline, saying the project was negotiated and brought to Afghanistan when the Islamist group was ruling the country. But critics questioned the insurgency's claims in the wake of latest attacks.
TAPI will carry 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from the world's fourth largest reserves in Turkmenistan through a 1,814 kilometer pipeline linking the four nations and is expected to create up to 25,000 jobs for Afghans in addition to generating about 500 million dollars in annual transit fees.
Dubbed as the "peace pipeline," TAPI was conceived in the 1990s, but construction could not begin until 2015, mainly because of unending hostilities in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's tensions with rival India.