Afghanistan's president ordered increased security Monday for workers building roads, dams, electricity lines and telecommunications systems in an attempt to revive key projects stalled by insurgent attacks that have killed or kidnapped dozens of laborers.
The U.S. and other international allies have poured billions into Afghanistan for infrastructure projects that also include mining and irrigation. The projects are one of the pillars of the counterinsurgency strategy and are aimed at sapping support for the Taliban.
The attacks have halted many of the projects for months or even years, and the Cabinet met Monday to discuss ways to restart them.
President Hamid Karzai said in the meeting that he was ordering more security. It's a difficult task, given that Afghan forces are already stretched to meet the demands of fighting the insurgency.
A government statement released after the meeting said insurgents have killed 53 road construction workers and kidnapped 110 since 2005.
Attacks on irrigation and dam projects have killed 30 workers in recent years; another four have been kidnapped. Insurgents have also killed nine telecommunications workers and kidnapped nine others.
As a result, a road construction project in eastern Wardak province has been delayed for 13 months, the government said.
Work has stopped on a road planned from the capital city of Kabul to the key eastern city of Jalalabad because militants burned 13 vehicles needed for construction, the statement said.
Dam projects, including Salma dam in Herat province, have been suspended indefinitely as has a project to extend electricity lines from Naghlo dam in Kabul province farther east.
"The road to Salma dam is blocked by the enemy and there are lots of problems supplying the projects," the statement said.
And a plan to improve telecommunications in the southeast of the country has been interrupted because of security threats.
In the volatile south, meanwhile, a bomb hidden in a scrap metal shop in a market exploded Monday, killing two civilians, officials said.
The early morning blast in the town of Gereshk killed the shopkeeper and a child sitting in a car parked outside the store, said the deputy police chief for Helmand province, Kamaluddin Sherzad. Four people were wounded.
The attack is the second in as many days in Gereshk. On Sunday, gunmen killed community council member Jan Mohammad Khan in the town's market, the Helmand governor's office said in a statement.
On the outskirts of the nearby provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, police killed a Taliban deputy commander on Sunday, the governor's office said.
Lashkar Gah is one of the first seven areas of the country where Afghan authorities have taken over control of security from international forces. The city is still frequently targeted by insurgents and the areas around Lashkar Gah remain dangerous.
Also Monday, an Australian soldier was killed in a bomb attack while on patrol in southern Uruzgan province, Australian officials said. At least 29 Australian service members have been killed in the Afghan conflict. Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan.
At least 68 international service members have died so far this month in Afghanistan, including the latest death. The vast majority of the dead were Americans.
Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar, Afghanistan.