Taleban suicide bomber kills six in Afghanistan's Helmand

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - At least six people were killed Saturday when a Taleban bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into Afghan soldiers who had queued outside a bank in southern Helmand province to collect their salaries, officials said.

Nearly two dozen others, including women and children, were wounded in the explosion in the capital Lashkar Gah, many of them critically.

The Taleban, who control vast swathes of the opium-ravaged province and have repeatedly threatened to seize Lashkar Gah, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Insurgent spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said the target was Afghan army soldiers.

“A suicide car bomber killed six people, including five soldiers, and 21 others were wounded,” Helmand police chief Agha Noor Kentoz told AFP.

Omar Zhwak, the provincial governor’s spokesman confirmed the casualties, saying the wounded had been rushed to hospitals in the city. The Italian-run Emergency hospital in Lashkar Gah said it had received at least 12 people, including a woman and a child.

Three military vehicles were destroyed in the bombing, Feda Mohammad, a local witness, told AFP.

For years Helmand was the centrepiece of the Western military intervention in Afghanistan only for it to slip deeper into a quagmire of instability.

The Taleban effectively control or contest 10 of the 14 districts in Helmand, the deadliest province for British and US troops over the last decade and blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency.

Lashkar Gah – one of the last government-held enclaves – also risks falling to the Taleban’s repeated ferocious assaults. The intensified fighting in the province recently forced thousands of people to flee to Lashkar Gah from neighbouring districts.

The Pentagon said last month it will deploy some 300 US Marines this spring to Helmand.

Nato officially ended its combat mission in December 2014, but the Marines will return to train and advise Afghan soldiers and police officers fighting the Taleban, said the US Central Command.

The decision was welcomed by the Afghan government ahead of what is expected to be another fierce spring fighting season.