Afghan soldiers killed in Taliban attacks; bomb hits capital

By Allen Cone  |  Feb. 24, 2018 at 10:12 AM
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Feb. 24 (UPI) -- At least 22 Afghan soldiers died in three attacks by the Taliban in the southern portion of the nation and a suicide bomber killed at least two in Kabul, officials said Saturday.

Insurgents struck checkpoints and small outposts in the southern provinces of Farah and Helmand, The New York Times reported. Militants also targeted Kabul's Green Zone near the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions.

The attacks occurred one day after construction began on the Afghan section of an international gas pipeline in the western border and shortly before a multilateral peace conference in Kabul next week.

Around 3 a.m. Saturday, insurgents overran a checkpoint in Farah Province. Afghanistan's army said that 18 government soldiers died and two others were wounded.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, in a statement delivered on the messaging service WhatsApp, said the insurgents had overrun the checkpoint, killing 25 soldiers, capturing two alive and making off with a Humvee and a truck.

Others -- including women and children -- were killed and injured in attacks elsewhere in Helmand province, according to regional and hospital officials.

In one attack in the Nad Ali district, an explosives-packed Humvee was rammed into an Afghan National Army base. Officials confirmed the blast killed at least four soldiers and wounded several others. The Taliban said it killed at least 25 Afghan soldiers.

Hours later, a Humvee was used to detonate a bomb at the National Directorate of Security, the nation's intelligence agency in the provincial capital of Lashkargah, killing at least one person and wounding nine others, including civilians, according to government officials. Afghan security forces shot the bomber dead as he tried to enter the security office.

Visiting U.S. permanent representative to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said that bombing in Lashkargah was a "fruitless" effort by the Taliban.

"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," Hutchison told reporters.

Also Saturday at a checkpoint in Kabul on the edge of the Green Zone, a suicide attacker detonated explosives. Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that blast killed at least three people and wounded a half-dozen others about a half-mile from NATO headquarters and embassies.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known at the Islamic State, claimed responsibility, Al Jazeera reported.

The headquarters of the United States-led international forces was briefly locked down.

Members of the NATO delegation, led by Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the supreme allied commander in Europe, had received a briefing ahead of the multilateral peace conference.

"I believe we made substantial progress," General Scaparrotti said of his impressions from the visit.

On Friday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hosted leaders from the participating nations in the western border city of Herat. They inaugurated construction work on the portion of the pipeline passing through Afghanistan.

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