A powerful car bomb Thursday struck a bank in Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Thursday, killing at least 20 people, officials said.
The bombing targeted civilian and military government employees queuing to withdraw their salaries outside the New Kabul Bank branch in southern Helmand province.
Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor, said at least 20 people had been killed and more than 50 wounded, including members of the police and army, civilians, and staff of the New Kabul Bank branch where the attack took place.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but Taliban and ISIS have in the past targeted banks where police, soldiers, and other government employees collect their pay.
The insurgents control large swathes of Helmand province, of which Lashkar Gah is the capital.
“Around 12 noon a car bomb exploded at the entrance of New Kabul Bank,” Salam Afghan, police spokesman in the city, told AFP.
“It happened at a time when civilians and officials had lined up outside the bank to collect their salaries.”
The incident is the latest in a series that has underlined a steadily worsening security situation across Afghanistan, almost three years after international troops ended their main combat mission in 2014.
Emergency workers and passers-by tried to help the injured, who were strewn among the dead. Ambulances and private cars ferried the victims to hospitals.
The blast came as Afghans were preparing to celebrate next week’s Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
While high-profile attacks in the capital, Kabul, have drawn headlines, there have been dozens of similar incidents in provincial centers across Afghanistan over recent months.
Helmand, one of the world’s major centers of opium growing, and a traditional heartland of the Taliban, has been under particularly heavy pressure with large parts of the province in the hands of the insurgents.
With the Afghan forces struggling to contain the Taliban insurgency, Washington is soon expected to announce an increase in the US military deployment. American military commanders in Afghanistan have requested thousands of extra boots on the ground.
US troops in Afghanistan now number about 8,400, 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.
The Afghan conflict is the longest in American history, with US-led forces at war since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.