KABUL:A Taliban suicide truck bomber has killed six people in Afghanistan, in the first major insurgent attack since the announcement of leader Mullah Omar’s death.
The blast in Pul-i-Alam, the capital of insurgency-prone Logar province just south of Kabul, highlights growing insecurity that is taking a heavy toll on Afghan civilians and security forces.
“A water truck filled with explosives was detonated when it was stopped at the gate of the quick reaction force [police] compound,” said the deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Qari Wara. “It was a powerful explosion which killed three members of the quick reaction force and three civilians.”
An official from the provincial governor’s office confirmed the death toll, adding that eight civilians, including a child, had been wounded.
The force of the explosion damaged government buildings nearby, while the site of the attack was littered with debris and shards of broken glass.
The Afghan interior ministry said the bombing on Thursday was the first suicide attack since the Taliban confirmed the death of Omar, who led the militant movement for about 20 years.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid saying 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.
The bombing coincides with a faltering peace process, with the Taliban confronted by an increasingly bitter power transition after Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was announced as the new leader last Friday.
Many of Mansoor’s rivals have been challenging his appointment, exposing the Taliban’s biggest leadership crisis in recent years and one that raises the risk of a factional split.
Later the same day, at least 17 people – including 12 Afghan army soldiers – were in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, the worst such incident suffered by military forces since the Nato combat mission ended in December.
The military helicopter went down due to a technical fault in Shinkay, a district relatively free of insurgent activity in the otherwise volatile province of Zabul.
“Five crew and 12 soldiers were killed when the helicopter crashed in Shinkay district of Zabul province due to technical issues,” a police official said on condition of anonymity.
Mohammad Qasim Khan, the Shinkay district chief, confirmed the death toll, with an army commander saying an official delegation had been dispatched to the area to investigate the incident.
Aircraft crashes have been a regular risk for Afghan and foreign coalition forces, with troops relying heavily on air transport to traverse the country’s rugged terrain to fight the Taliban.
On occasion, the insurgents have brought down Nato helicopters – notably a US Chinook in 2011, killing 30 Americans – but such incidents have been rare.
In April last year, five British troops died when their helicopter crashed in Kandahar province in what the UK Ministry of Defence said at the time appeared to be a “tragic accident”.
The fledgling Afghan air force has 83 Mi-17 transport helicopters, of which “a large number are currently under maintenance during the fighting season”, said Graeme Smith, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan.
“Maintenance is a serious issue for the Afghan air force and it is hurting their ability to provide air support to ground forces,” Smith said.