20 killed as car bomb targets Afghan bank

20 killed as car bomb targets Afghan bank”

While the IS affiliate's stronghold is in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, the branch has managed also to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul and other cities.

Lashkargah is the capital of Helmand province, which was the centrepiece of the western military intervention in Afghanistan but has recently slipped deeper into a quagmire of instability.

"Both civilians and police are among the victims who had gone to the bank to collect their salaries", said Mohammad Karim Atal, the head of the local provincial council.

Calling for "complete independence of the country and establishment of an Islamic system", he warned against plans under consideration to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan by up to 3,000-5,000.

Armed attackers then entered the bank and a gun battle is going on with security forces, Tolo News reports.

The worst attack occurred in the Afghan capital of Kabul on May 31, shortly after Ramadan began, when a truck bomb exploded in the heart of the city, killing 150 people.

It has always been considered Afghanistan's most violent province, and hundreds of Marines died there in battles between 2008 and 2014, when they were pulled out as part of the drawdown of USA troops.

At least 50 wounded people were rushed to hospital, government spokesman Omar Zwak told AFP, with another official warning of multiple fatalities.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, marking the latest deadly incident in Afghanistan during the ongoing Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Most of the injured were in a serious condition and the number of dead could increase further, he said, adding that children are among the casualties.

Earlier this month, US Defense Secretary James Mattis acknowledged that the US still was "not winning" the war in Afghanistan even though it toppled the Taliban 16 years ago. Afterward, those seven us troops were medically evacuated, while the Afghani personnel was not that serious thus, not evacuated yet the wounds were stabilized.

Helmand, a centre for opium production, has been the scene of fierce fighting against the Taliban for years, involving British troops, US Marines and Afghan forces.

Kevin King, a teacher at the American University in Kabul, and his Australian colleague Timothy Weeks were seized near the campus in August a year ago.

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