War for Afghanistan Gas Pipeline Begins
Islamic Terror Attacks Across Afghanistan as Construction on TAPI Pipeline Begins
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.
The Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI), also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Galkynysh – TAPI Pipeline Company Limited with participation of the Asian Development Bank.
Islamic State Kills Three in Kabul
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 (ISIS-K) 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.
The 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment (2 YORKS), is currently deployed to Kabul on Operation TORAL.
Separately, two early morning suicide bombings targeted Afghan forces in the troubled Helmand province.
Taliban Attack Nad Ali Army Base
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.
Taliban Bomb Office in Lashkargah
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.
TAPI Gas Pipeline Project
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.
Taliban Seeking Control of Pipeline
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.
In a statement emailed to media outlets, Qari Mohammad Yusuf Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesperson, claimed credit for the project, implying that it was initially planned during the Taliban regime, and said the group will ensure its security in areas under its control.
“The Islamic Emirate views this project as an important element of the country’s economic infrastructure and believes its proper implementation will benefit the Afghan people. We announce our cooperation in providing security for the project in areas under our control,” the Taliban statement said.
The long-awaited 1,814-kilometers (1,130-mile) pipeline project, known by its acronym TAPI, which will stretch from Turkmenistan and feed gas to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, was officially inaugurated Friday by Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in the country’s western Herat province.
TAPI Wealth Will Fuel Afghan Conflict
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and India Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar participated in the inauguration ceremony, which was held amid tight security to prevent possible attacks aimed at disrupting the event.
The work on the Afghan part of the multibillion-dollar project has officially begun, and the project will take several years to complete.
Ghani said TAPI is the start of a new beginning for the region.
“We hope that this project [TAPI] will pave the way for hundreds of other projects and the hope is that our future generations will view this not only as the inauguration of a project and an economic corridor, but the foundation of a shared vision which will help us fight poverty, unemployment, extremism and insecurity in our region,” he said.
“The policy of cooperation will ensure prosperity for our people, and economic prosperity is an important pillar of security and stability,” Ghani added.
Taliban’s statement follows another statement by the group’s breakaway faction, led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool, which also said it would support the project and prevent domestic and foreign groups from jeopardizing the prospects of its success.
“We will not allow any group or state to disrupt this project,” Maulawi Abdul Manan Niazi said in a statement sent to local media.
It is very rare for Taliban insurgents to support a government project. The militant group is often accused of destroying bridges, roads, schools and other places of public interest in their attacks across the country.
Militants Linked to Iran
Meanwhile, provincial officials in Herat province told media that a group of 10 militants, who allegedly had been trained in Iran to attack the inauguration ceremony of TAPI, decided not to carry out the attack and instead surrendered to authorities.
“Enemies of Afghanistan have instructed them to disrupt the ceremony, but they [militants] realized that this project would benefit the Afghan people and the next generations of the country,” Herat province Governor Mohammad Asif Rahimi told RFE/RL Afghanistan service.
The Afghan Ministry of Interior said they would investigate the group’s claims.
“Every country involved in such disruptive attempts should know that one day their future generations will pay the price as the fire will reach them as well,” Murad Ali Murad, deputy minister of Interior, told local media without naming any country.
Iranian officials have not commented on this issue yet. Some Afghan officials, however, blame Tehran for supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, a charge Tehran denies.
TAPI vs IPI?
Another gas project by Iran, Pakistan and India, known by its acronym IPI, is also underway, and some analysts speculate that Iran might view TAPI as a rival to IPI and try to disrupt it.
Afghan President Ghani, however, rejected the notion that Iran is not happy with TAPI.
The United States supports TAPI and views it as an important project for all the countries that are party to it.
This most recent wave of attacks comes after US military forces attacked Taliban and East Turkestan Islamic Movement training camps in Afghanistan, February 7.
Sources: Voice of America; US Central Command.