Car Bomb Targets Afghan Bank, 29 Reported Killed

An Afghan official says a car bomb has exploded in front of a bank in the country’s south, killing 29 people.

Omar Zwak, spokesman for Helmand Province’s governor, said more than 50 people were also wounded in the June 22 blast in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Local health official Haji Moladad Tobagar said the city’s hospital received 25 bodies after the attack, as well as 60 wounded.

The casualties included civilians, staff of the New Kabul Bank branch, and members of the security forces.

Zwak said the car bomb exploded near a line of Afghan police officers and soldiers who had gathered outside the bank to receive their salaries ahead of holidays for Eid, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The bombing was followed by gunfire at the bank, said Mohammad Karim Atal, a provincial council member.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but militant groups, including the Taliban and Islamic State, have in the past targeted banks where police, soldiers, and other government employees collect their pay.

At least three people were killed and many wounded in an attack last month on a bank in the eastern city of Gardez.

Helmand is a Taliban stronghold and the extremist group controls about 80 percent of the province.

The attack in Lashkar Gah came as the United Nations and the Pentagon warned that the situation in Afghanistan keeps deteriorating.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on June 21 published a new report which concluded that the security situation in Afghanistan remains “intensely volatile.”

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The recent spate of deadly attacks across the country could indicate a much worse and more fragile period ahead, the UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, told the UN Security Council as he presented the report.

The UN recorded 6,252 security-related incidents between March 1 and May 31, a 2 percent increase on the same period last year, the report said.

The eastern and southern regions are the most dangerous, with a 22 percent increase in incidents compared to the same time span last year.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon warned that Afghanistan was confronted with an increasingly violent insurgency.

“The Afghan government retains control of Kabul, major population centers, most key transit routes, provincial capitals, and a majority of district centers,” it said in a new report.

However, it added, “the Taliban continues to contest district centers, threaten provincial capitals, and temporarily seize main lines of communication throughout the country, especially in high-priority areas like Kunduz and Helmand provinces.”

Insurgent groups like the Taliban and Islamic State have launched a series of attacks across Afghanistan in recent weeks.

A massive truck bombing and later suicide attacks left hundreds dead and wounded at the end of last month and beginning of June, raising political tensions for the Afghan government, which is struggling to combat rising violence and corruption.

Thousands of international troops remain in the country to train and assist Afghan security forces as well as carry out counterterrorism missions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that President Donald Trump had given him the authority to establish troop levels in Afghanistan.

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U.S. media have reported that Mattis will recommend sending another 3,000-5,000 troops to break what he has called a “stalemate” between government forces and the Taliban.

The United States currently has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, the BBC, and dpa