Afghanistan: Taliban and ISIL claim attacks that killed 23
One suicide bomber killed 18 soldiers in western province
At least 23 people, mostly soldiers, were killed and more than a dozen wounded in a series of attacks and suicide bombings in Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, the latest carnage inflicted on the country's beleaguered security forces.
In the biggest attack, Taliban militants stormed an army base in the western province of Farah overnight, killing at least 18 government troops, according to the defence ministry.
Violence has intensified in Afghanistan since US president Donald Trump unveiled a more aggressive strategy in August with US-led forces carrying out more air strikes and the Taliban responding with bombs, ambushes and raids.
"A large number of Taliban attacked an army outpost and we lost 18 soldiers and two were wounded," said defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri.
The Taliban claimed responsibility and said two of their fighters were killed.
In another attack, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the diplomatic area of Kabul during the morning rush hour, killing at least three people and wounding five others, deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP.
The bomb was the latest in a spate of attacks in the capital in which hundreds of people have been killed and wounded.
"At around 8:30 am, a suicide bomber on foot, well-dressed with a necktie on, was identified at a checkpoint. He blew up his explosives," said Mr Rahimi.
The capital has been on high alert since a Taliban suicide bomber blew up an explosive-packed ambulance on a busy street on January 27, killing more than 100 people and wounding at least 235.
A week earlier, militants killed more than 20 people, including four Americans, in an attack on one of the city's top hotels. The Taliban claimed that attack too.
A security source who asked not to be named said the explosion happened near a compound belonging to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency. The NDS compound is located near NATO headquarters and the US embassy. In December, a suicide attacker on foot blew himself up near the same compound, killing at least six civilians.
ISIL, which is trying to make inroads in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility in a message on their Amaq news agency.
The insurgents' Afghan affiliate, which first appeared near the border with Pakistan in 2015, has become increasingly active and has claimed several recent attacks.
Afghanistan's western-backed government is under growing public pressure to set aside rivalries and improve security.
President Ashraf Ghani has approved a new security plan for Kabul but it was not clear what steps could be taken in the city of five million people, which already has numerous checkpoints and vehicle restrictions.
Afghan soldiers have taken what the UN describes as "shocking" casualties since international forces ended their combat role at the end of 2014, though troop casualty figures are no longer released.
In two other attacks on Saturday in volatile southern Helmand province, suicide car bombs killed at least two soldiers and wounded more than a dozen others, officials said.
The Taliban, fighting to drive out foreign troops and re-establish their form of strict Islamic law, claimed responsibility.
A surge in suicide attacks and bombings in Afghanistan killed a record number of civilians - almost 2,300 - last year, more than any previous year of the conflict on record, according to the United Nations.
It was the fourth consecutive year that more than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan.
Updated: February 24, 2018 06:12 PM