NEW DELHI: In 2016, the war in Afghanistan will enter its fourteenth year, as the United States backtracks on plans to withdraw all troops and the Taliban sees some its biggest gains yet in the form of successes in Sangin district, the fall of the city of Kunduz, Lashkar Gah, Gurian district and Warduj district.

A recent report by the Pentagon to the US Congress noted that Afghanistan's overall security has deteriorated dramatically during the second half of 2015, with militants staging more effective attacks and Afghan forces suffering more casualties.

The report added that casualties among Afghan national defense and security forces, or ANDSF, rose 27 percent from Jan. 1 to Nov. 15, compared with the same period last year. This high figure comes a year after a top U.S. general said Afghan casualties were already unsustainable.

Further, the report noted that Afghan forces were not entirely capable of beating back the Taliban -- who have seen major successes in recent months in Helmand province, the fall of Kunduz and a brazen attack on the Kandahar airport, amongst other instances. "This allows the Taliban to foster the impression that the ANDSF cannot control key population centers," the report said.

The report stated that the Taliban has also increased the number of effective attacks it has been able to wage by about 4 percent in the first 11 months of 2015 compared to the same period of last year. The number of effective attacks peaked at more than 1,000 in June and July. "Insurgents are improving in their ability to find and exploit (Afghan forces') vulnerabilities, making the security situation still fragile in key areas and at risk of deterioration in other places," it said.

Additionally, the report noted a threat from the Islamic State in Afghanistan, as disaffected Taliban fighter defect to the Syria and Iraq based militant group. "The group continues to recruit disaffected Taliban and formerly Taliban-aligned fighters, most notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," the report stated.

The report added that an additional threat was posed by the Al Qaeda, which seeks to reconstitute its ability to strike the West. It also noted an October operation to destroy an al Qaeda training camp in Kandahar, the existence of which alarmed some analysts.

All this paints a despairing picture as in over fourteen years of war, the US has not managed to entirely dislodge or defeat the Taliban, with the civilians paying the price of the country’s continued presence in Afghanistan.

Year after year, civilian casualties have risen, with trends from the first half of 2015 putting it on the path to be the worst year yet in terms of civilian casualties. Further, according to a recent UNAMA report, women and children show the sharpest rise in casualties.

(Source: UNAMA)

“Afghan civilians have suffered far too long from this destructive conflict. The devastating consequences of this violence against civilians as documented in this report should serve to strengthen the broad conviction that peace is urgently needed,” said Nicholas Haysom, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.

“Until peace is achieved, all parties to the conflict must fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law to minimize the impact of the conflict on civilians and match their public statements on the protection of civilians with concrete actions,” said Haysom, who is also the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan.

The first six months of 2015 have seen a 13 percent rise in child casualties when compared with the same period last year. The number of women killed and injured has increased by a sharp 23 percent. Total casualties have gone up too, but only by 1 percent when compared to record levels in 2014, with 1591 civilians killed and 3329 injured.

The figures reveal a worrying development regarding the war’s changing dynamic, i.e, the increasingly detrimental impact of the war on women and children. As overall casualties rise but only marginally, the brunt of the war has fallen on Afghanistan’s women and children -- evinced by the sharp rise in casualties among both groups.

This means that the war and its effects are moving closer to homes. Warring groups are increasingly turning to residential areas, where women and children are at risk of harm from indiscriminate weapons such as mortars, rockets and grenades.

“The rise in the numbers of women and children killed and maimed from conflict-related violence is particularly disturbing,” said Danielle Bell, UNAMA Director of Human Rights. “This year, UNAMA recorded the highest number of children and women casualties compared to the same period in previous years. All parties to the conflict must undertake stronger measures to protect civilians from harm. When the conflict kills or maims a mother, child, sister or brother, the repercussions for families and communities are devastating and long-lasting.”

In another worrying development, government forces -- as opposed to insurgent groups -- are the cause of a majority of these type of casualties, causing 59 percent of the deaths relating to the weapons listed above.

(Source: UNAMA)

For instance, on 5 June 2015, mortars used by Afghan national army soldiers killed eight children when they accidently struck a wedding party on the outskirts of Ghazni. The security forces responded with contradictory statements -- itself a worrying sign regarding the lack of transparency and accountability that is coming to characterize violence in Afghanistan.

Although insurgent groups remain the factor behind a majority of civilian casualties, the number of civilian casualties caused by government forces has seen a sharp rise. In the first six months of 2015, government forces killed or injured almost 300 more civilians as compared to the first half of 2014 -- representing a 60 percent increase. Government forces have in total been responsible for 16 percent of civilian casualties.

(Source: UNAMA)

“This report lays bare the heart-rending, prolonged suffering of civilians in Afghanistan, who continue to bear the brunt of the armed conflict and live in insecurity and uncertainty over whether a trip to a bank, a tailoring class, to a court room or a wedding party, may be their last,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “Impunity for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law has been reigning for too long in Afghanistan, and fuelling the cycle of violence. There need to be urgent, concrete steps towards accountability, to break this venomous cycle.”