Taliban suicide bomber strikes bank in Helmand

The Taliban claimed credit for a suicide attack that targeted a bank in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, earlier today. Dozens of Afghans were killed and wounded in the deadly attack.

Afghan officials said the suicide bomber detonated his car bomb outside of the Kabul Bank branch in Lashkar Gah as military personnel and civilians were lining up to withdraw funds before the beginning of Eid al Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, TOLONews reported. Twenty-nine people were killed and 50 more were wounded in the blast, health officials told the Afghan news agency.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf Ahmadi and media official Abdullah claimed credit for the bank bombing on their official Twitter accounts. Abdullah said that the attack targeted soldiers who were collecting their salaries, and claimed that 73 security personnel were killed and wounded in the blast.

The Taliban has targeted Kabul Bank branches throughout Afghanistan in the past. In Feb. 2011, a Taliban suicide attack team armed with assault rifles and hand grenades hit a branch in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. The Taliban team opened fire on civilians and policemen who lined up outside the bank to collect their earnings. At least 42 people were killed and more than 70 were wounded, including the chief and deputy chief of police for Nangarhar province.

In March 2014, another suicide team struck the Kabul Bank branch in Asadabad as police and security personnel gathered to collect their pay. Afghan officials claimed that one policeman and four Taliban fighters were killed, but the Taliban claimed that “at least 28 puppets,” or Afghan security personnel, were killed in the assault.

Helmand province has become a stronghold for the Taliban since US forces began withdrawing from the province in 2013. The Taliban now controls seven of the province’s 14 districts (Baghran, Dishu, Khanashin, Now Zad, Nawa, Musa Qala, and Sangin) and contests another six, including the provincial capital (Lashkar Gah, Nahr-i-Sarraj, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Marjah, and Garmsir), according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. The status of Washir district is uncertain as news reports from the district are scarce. Nearly all of Helmand has been controlled or influenced/contested for well over a year.

The situation in Helmand is so bleak that the Taliban has effectively surrounded the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, and have launched several forays into the city. The Taliban have also unleashed major attacks in the district. In Oct. 2016, the Taliban ambushed a large convoy of Afghan troops after they negotiated their safe passage from their base on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah. More than 200 Afghan troops were killed, wounded, captured, or surrendered. [See LWJ report, Taliban details deadly ambush of Afghan military convoy.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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