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20 killed as vehicle bomb targets Afghan bank

20 killed as vehicle bomb targets Afghan bank”

A suicide auto bomb exploded Thursday at a bank in Afghanistan's Helmand province as Afghan troops and government workers waited to collect their pay ahead of a major Muslim holiday, killing at least 29 people, officials said.

Governor Hayatullah Hayat said by phone that most of those killed were civilians and at least 60 people were wounded.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but Helmand has been at the center of bitter battles between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, aided by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops.

A suicide bomber driving an explosive-packed auto targeted the New Kabul Bank branch in Lashkar Gah, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand province.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, Hussien Murtazawi, said the enemy after "facing defeat in the battlefield is now targeting the civilians".

A powerful explosion struck a bank in Lashkar Gah city while civilian and military government employees were queueing to withdraw their salaries, officials said.

The Taliban effectively control or contest 10 of the 14 districts in Helmand, the deadliest province for British and United States troops over the past decade.

A series of attacks have occurred in Afghanistan in recent weeks in what is regarded as an annual spring offensive by the Taliban.

In recent weeks, the Taliban have overrun Helmand's key Sangin district, where both British and USA troops had fought for years to keep them at bay.

Afghan men carry a victim of a powerful vehicle bomb in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, on June 22, 2017.

In a tweet, Afghanistan government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah condemned what he termed a terror attack against innocent Muslims during Ramadan.

USA troops in Afghanistan now number about 8,400, and there are another 5,000 from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, a far cry from the U.S. presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.

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.



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