Nine dead in first major Afghan Taliban attack since power transition

Six people were killed Thursday when a Taliban suicide truck bomber struck a police compound in Afghanistan, in the first major insurgent attack since the announcement of leader Mullah Omar`s death.

AFP| Last Updated: Aug 06, 2015, 21:01 PM IST

Kabul: Six people were killed Thursday when a Taliban suicide truck bomber struck a police compound in Afghanistan, in the first major insurgent attack since the announcement of leader Mullah Omar`s death.

The attack in Pul-i-Alam, the capital of insurgency-prone Logar province just south of Kabul, highlights growing insecurity as Afghan forces face their first summer fighting season without full NATO support.

Meanwhile, at least 17 people, including 12 Afghan army soldiers, were killed in a helicopter crash in the volatile southern province of Zabul, but officials said the incident was caused by a technical fault and not insurgent activity. 

The bombing in Logar coincides with a faltering peace process, with the Taliban confronted by an increasingly bitter power transition after Mullah Akhtar Mansour was announced as the new leader last Friday.

"A water truck filled with explosives was detonated when it was stopped at the gate of the Quick Reaction Force (police) compound," said deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Qari Wara.

"It was a powerful explosion... which killed three members of the Quick Reaction Force and three civilians."

The force of the explosion damaged government buildings near the site, which was littered with debris and shards of broken glass. 

Baheer, an official from the provincial governor`s office, confirmed the death toll, adding that eight civilians, including a child, were wounded.

The Afghan interior ministry said Thursday`s bombing was the first suicide attack since the Taliban confirmed last week the death of their leader Mullah Omar, who led the militant movement for some 20 years. 

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claiming that a "Mazda truck packed with heavy explosives... killed more than 100 security personnel".

Taliban insurgents routinely exaggerate the death toll in attacks on Afghan government and military targets.

But in a rare admission, Mujahid said "some civilians may have been wounded as a result of broken glass".

The Taliban do not usually claim responsibility for attacks which result in a large number of civilian casualties.President Ashraf Ghani condemned the "cowardly act" in a statement, adding that the "killing of innocent people is an unforgivable crime that can be justified in no religion".

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in the first half of 2015, a UN report said Wednesday, as Afghan forces struggle to contain the expanding conflict six months after the NATO combat mission ended.

The report said 1,592 civilians were killed, a six percent fall from last year, but the number of injured jumped four percent to 3,329. The casualties have reached their highest level since the UN began issuing its authoritative reports in 2009.

The statistics are a grim indicator of rising violence as the Taliban insurgency spreads north from its traditional southern and eastern strongholds, with Afghan forces increasingly battling the militants on their own.

US-led NATO forces ended their combat mission in Afghanistan in December, but a 13,000-strong residual force remains for training and counter-terrorism operations.

The Taliban face growing internal divisions after Mullah Mansour`s appointment was announced.

An acrimonious power struggle has broken out, casting a pall over a fragile peace process aimed at ending Afghanistan`s long war.

The Taliban distanced themselves from the second round of talks with the Afghan government that were scheduled for last Friday but were cancelled after the announcement of Omar`s death.