At Least 34 Killed As Car Bomb Hits Bank In Southern Afghanistan

Thirty-four people have been killed and 58 others wounded in a car bomb outside a bank in the southern province of Helmand, the provincial governor’s office said.

Local officials said the bomb was detonated on June 22 outside the New Kabul Bank branch in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, causing casualties among civilians, staff of the New Kabul Bank branch, and members of the security forces.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was a suicide bombing.

President Ashraf Ghani called the perpetrators of the attack “enemies of humanity” who have “no respect for any religion or faith.”

The attack occurred as Afghan police officers and soldiers had lined up outside the bank to receive their salaries ahead of holidays for Eid, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The bombing was followed by gunfire at the bank, said Mohammad Karim Atal, a provincial council member.

Militant groups, including the Taliban and Islamic State, have in the past targeted banks where police, soldiers, and other government employees collect their pay.

At least three people were killed and many wounded in an attack last month on a bank in the eastern city of Gardez.

Helmand is a Taliban stronghold and the extremist group controls about 80 percent of the province.

The attack in Lashkar Gah came as the United Nations and the Pentagon warned that the situation in Afghanistan keeps deteriorating.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on June 21 published a new report which concluded that the security situation in Afghanistan remains "intensely volatile."

The recent spate of deadly attacks across the country could indicate a much worse and more fragile period ahead, the UN's special envoy to Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, told the UN Security Council as he presented the report.

The UN recorded 6,252 security-related incidents between March 1 and May 31, a 2 percent increase on the same period last year, the report said.

The eastern and southern regions are the most dangerous, with a 22 percent increase in incidents compared to the same time span last year.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon warned that Afghanistan was confronted with an increasingly violent insurgency.

"The Afghan government retains control of Kabul, major population centers, most key transit routes, provincial capitals, and a majority of district centers," it said in a new report.

However, it added, "the Taliban continues to contest district centers, threaten provincial capitals, and temporarily seize main lines of communication throughout the country, especially in high-priority areas like Kunduz and Helmand provinces."

Insurgent groups like the Taliban and Islamic State have launched a series of attacks across Afghanistan in recent weeks.

A massive truck bombing and later suicide attacks left hundreds dead and wounded at the end of last month and beginning of June, raising political tensions for the Afghan government, which is struggling to combat rising violence and corruption.

Thousands of international troops remain in the country to train and assist Afghan security forces as well as carry out counterterrorism missions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that President Donald Trump had given him the authority to establish troop levels in Afghanistan.

U.S. media have reported that Mattis will recommend sending another 3,000-5,000 troops to break what he has called a "stalemate" between government forces and the Taliban.

The United States currently has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, the BBC, and dpa