Lashkargah -  At least 34 people were killed on Thursday in a Taliban car bombing outside a bank in Afghanistan’s Lashkargah city as government employees were queueing outside to withdraw salaries ahead of the Eid holidays.

Dozens of people were rushed to hospital after the powerful blast at New Kabul Bank which overturned vehicles and left the area littered with charred debris.

The bomb tore through a queue of civilians and government employees who had lined up outside the bank to collect their salaries ahead of the Eid holidays marking the end of Ramazan.

"At least 34 people were killed and 58 others wounded in today’s bombing," the provincial government said.

This was the third attack on this bank since 2014, with the Taliban claiming their target was Afghan soldiers and police on their way to draw salaries. But the government said most of the victims were civilians, including women and children.

Esmatullah, a border policeman who was at the scene of the deafening explosion, said many people were missing in the ensuing chaos as bystanders, survivors and ambulances struggled to get the most seriously wounded to the hospital. "We are taking children to the hospital," he said.

A 12-year-old girl named Hosnia was crying outside the bank as she searched for her father who had brought her to buy shoes ahead of the holiday.

"I couldn’t find anyone, my brother and my father," she said. "My father told me he will take me to buy shoes. We came here and then there was the explosion."

President Ashraf Ghani assailed the attackers as "enemies of humanity". He said the relentless assaults in Afghanistan were particularly offensive during Ramazan, when the faithful seek forgiveness for their wrongdoings.

"These brutal terrorist attacks ... prove that they have no respect for any religion or faith," Ghani said.

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.

The Taliban control vast areas of the province, a major centre of opium production that helps fund the insurgency, and have repeatedly threatened to seize Lashkar Gah.

The insurgents effectively control or contest 10 of the 14 districts in Helmand, the deadliest province for British and US troops over the past decade. Intensified fighting last year forced thousands of people to flee to Lashkargah from neighbouring districts.

Since they launched their spring offensive in late April, the Taliban have mounted deadly attacks on the Afghan army and police outposts in Helmand.

Washington is expected to soon announce an increase in US military deployment to bolster Afghan forces as they struggle to contain the insurgency. American military commanders in Afghanistan have requested thousands of extra troops.

The US military now has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, and there are another 5,000 from Nato allies, a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago. They mainly serve as trainers and advisers.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis this month acknowledged that America was still "not winning" in Afghanistan nearly 16 years after a US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime.

Mr Mattis said he would present a new US military strategy for Afghanistan, along with adjusted troop numbers, to President Donald Trump in the coming weeks. The Afghan conflict is the longest in American history, with US-led forces at war since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.


The Afghan Taliban released a video showing an American and an Australian hostage asking their governments to help negotiate a prisoner exchange with their captors to secure their release.

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

The video, which King and Weeks said was made on June 16, showed the two men addressing the camera and asking for Taliban prisoners to be handed over in exchange for their freedom.

The video, whose authenticity could not be independently verified, was distributed by the Taliban's main spokesman and circulated on social media sites. It follows a similar video of the two men which the Taliban released in January.