Taliban truck bomb kills six in first major attack since power transition

KABUL - Six people were killed Thursday when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged truck outside a police compound in eastern Afghanistan, in the first major insurgent attack since their 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.

The bombing 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 head of the insurgent movement 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." Baheer, an official from the provincial governor's office, confirmed the death toll, adding that eight people, 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 are known to exaggerate the death toll in attacks on Afghan government and military targets.

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 over last year, while 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 was announced as the new chief of the insurgent movement on Friday.

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.