Their hope is to reverse some of the gains that the Taliban have made over the past couple of years, where the fighters continue to surround Lashkar Gah city.
The province is also the country’s largest opium-producing area, and the violence there is sometimes related to the drug trade. Last week, local media outlets reported that about two dozen bodies had been unearthed in the deserts between Helmand and Kandahar, a major smuggling route.
Afghan officials could not confirm the identities of most of the dead. Some officials speculated that the carnage may have resulted from drug-related violence, as groups, sometimes including members of the security forces, have been known to chase smugglers to seize their cargo.
The suicide bomb targeting the NATO convoy occurred in Kandahar, in Daman District, on the main highway connecting Kandahar to the border with Pakistan. Qudratullah Khushbakht, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said one passer-by, a woman, had been killed and four other civilians wounded.
A police spokesman said the woman had been killed when her house nearby collapsed from the force of the blast.
Violence has also flared in northern Afghanistan, where Afghan forces have been trying to retake an area captured by the Taliban in Sar-e-Pul Province after a government militia providing security there switched sides.
Nearly a week of heavy fighting in the Sancharak District displaced as many as 2,000 families, said Abdul Ahmad Iqbal, the province’s director of refugees.
The Norweigian Refugee Council, which provides assistance to the displaced residents, expressed concern that humanitarian organizations were struggling to meet the needs of civilians forced from their homes by the fighting.
More than 390,000 Afghans have been uprooted this year, with displacements reported in 31 of the country’s 34 provinces, the organization said.
“Our capacity to respond to these emergencies is now fully exhausted, as the scale of Afghans fleeing their homes due to conflict this year has been overwhelming,” said William Carter, a representative of the organization in Afghanistan.
“The current funding is now going into the red in our accounts,” he said, “and we continue to face serious access constraints to areas where most of those in need are displaced as there are ongoing clashes.”