Afghanistan: Powerful explosion hits affluent neighbourhood of Kabul, home to government officials

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent hears from an Afghan politician who blames the US for recent assaults by the Taliban

A powerful explosion has rocked the capital of Afghanistan, home to several senior government officials, including the defence minister.

Interior Ministry Mirwais Stanikzai confirmed the blast took place in the affluent Sherpur neighbourhood of Kabul, located in a heavily secure area known as the 'green zone'.

It appeared the target was the guesthouse of Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.

Afghan Special forces patrol a deserted street during fighting with Taliban fighters, in Lashkar Gah, southern Afghanistan. Credit: AP

His Jamiat-e-Islami party issued a statement saying the minister was not in the guesthouse and his family had been safely evacuated.

No one took immediate responsibility for the attack, but it came as Taliban fighters appeared to be on the brink of overrunning the key Afghan provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

Officials had earlier confirmed that nine out of the ten of the city's districts were now under the hardline Islamists’ control, as residents were urged to evacuate.

Smoke rises from buildings in Lashkar Gah on Tuesday morning. Credit: ITV News.

The fundamentalist Islamist group has captured most of the Helmand provincial capital in South Afghanistan - a city which has seen intense fighting erupt in the last 24 hours, leaving at least 40 civilians dead, according to the UN. 

Majid Akhund, deputy chairman of the Helmand provincial council, said the Taliban now control nine Lashkar Gah districts and also the city’s TV and radio station, which had both gone off the air.

The Taliban appear to be on the brink of overrunning Lashkar Gah

General Sami Sadat, the Afghan forces commander for Helmand, has urged residents of the besieged city to evacuate as soon as possible for their safety.

In an audio message to residents on Tuesday, he said: “Please evacuate your families from your homes and their surroundings."

“We will not leave the Taliban alive. I know it’s hard... we do it for your future. Forgive us if you get displaced for a few days, please evacuate as soon as possible.”

Desperate residents have told the Associated Press how they are trapped inside their homes and unable to leave for basic supplies.

Violence has escalated since early May, with the insurgents capitalising on the final stages of the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from the war-torn country after almost 20 years.

If Lashkar Gah fell, it would be the first provincial capital won by the Taliban since 2016, when they briefly captured the northern city of Kunduz.

Afghan security personnel patrol a deserted street during fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces, in Lashkar Gah. Credit: AP

The Taliban has launched coordinated attacks on the city centre and its prison after the government announced the deployment of hundreds of commandos to the area.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says civilians are "bearing the brunt" of the violence, with the Taliban ground offensive and Afghan air strikes causing the most damage. 

Afghan government forces have launched airstrikes, backed by the US, in a desperate effort to defend the city.

Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has blamed the speedy withdrawal of US-led troops for the worsening violence in his country.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, centre, attends at the extraordinary meeting of the Parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 2 Credit: AP

Speaking to parliament on Monday, he said that “an imported, hasty” peace process “not only failed to bring peace but created doubt and ambiguity” among Afghans.

Elite commando units have also been dispatched from Kabul to aid Afghan forces as the government held on to key government buildings, including the local police and army headquarters.