KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A suicide car bomber detonated explosives near a hotel in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least six and wounding nearly two dozen, officials said.
The blast in Kandahar happened as NATO and Afghan forces prepare for a joint offensive against Taliban militants in the neighboring province of Helmand in an attempt to break the Taliban stranglehold on the south.
A police officer in the district where the blast occurred, Ahmed Shah Khan, said that the bomber's target was not immediately clear and that the explosives might have detonated prematurely.
The blast occurred in a busy commercial area near a major road that is frequently used by U.S. officials and other dignitaries in Kandahar, the main commercial center of the south.
But the six killed, including a child, were near the hotel, according to hospital official Mohammed Ibrahim. He said 18 people were wounded.
NATO has sent reinforcements into Kandahar, 260 miles southwest of Kabul, fearing the Taliban were encroaching on the city of 800,000. At the same time, the international community launched a program of economic aid and development projects.
NATO and Afghan forces also killed 32 suspected militants in Helmand as troops there gear up for a push to capture the town of Marjah, officials said on Thursday.
A start date for the Marjah offensive has not been released for security reasons. But U.S. and Afghan commanders have said it will be soon.
The operation will be the first major offensive since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and many of the Marines set to participate arrived as part of the surge. Marjah is the largest city in the south under Taliban control.