A suicide bomber has killed at least seven civilians and wounded 41 others in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, where the military has been battling rebels since last month, officials said.
The suicide bomber detonated his explosives-rigged truck near a complex that houses the governor, the head of the provincial council and the deputy provincial police chief in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, a senior local official said on Wednesday.
All three officials survived, but “seven civilian were killed and 41 were wounded in the attack”, Deputy Provincial Governor Mohammad Jan Rasolyar told the AFP news agency.
“The attack was targeted at a gathering of senior government officials, civil society members and journalists in a hall for a seminar on human trafficking and kidnapping,” he added.
The wounded, including provincial government spokesman Omar Zhwak, were taken to hospital.
A senior police officer, who declined to be named, confirmed the attack and casualties, adding that buildings in the complex were also damaged.
Increase in civilian deaths
The interior ministry also confirmed the attack in a statement.
Afghanistan’s military began an offensive against Taliban fighters in Helmand province last month, in what was seen as a key test of their ability to curtail the insurgency following the end of US-led NATO combat mission in late December.
On Monday, it claimed the killing of rebel commander Hafiz Waheed, who led a faction Kabul claims is linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group – though the organisation has never acknowledged having affiliates in Afghanistan.
A residual force of about 12,000 international troops have remained to help train Afghanistan’s security forces, but a rising tide of violence has led US and Afghan leaders to revise their plans over further planned withdrawals.
The number of civilians killed and wounded in Afghanistan jumped 22 percent in 2014, the UN said last month, as NATO troops withdrew from combat.
The United States was due to reduce its 10,000 troops to 5,500 by December, but that number is expected to be revisited soon, according to US officials.
The Taliban, who frequently target Afghan government officials and security forces, claimed responsibility for the attack through their official Twitter account.
There have been growing hopes for talks between Kabul and the Taliban aimed at moving towards reconciliation after more than a decade of war, involving both the United States and Afghanistan’s neighbour Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah said last month that peace talks with the Taliban could begin within days, though the fighters swiftly dismissed the idea.