NEW DELHI: Taliban insurgents killed 22 security force members in Sar-e-Pol province north of Kabul, officials say. The attack was launched from the mountains as the was travelling through Laghman valley. At least 22 insurgents were also killed in the attack.

The attack followed a bomb in Kabul on the same day that killed one civilian. Villagers also accused NATO forces for killing seven civilians, including a nine year old child, in an airstrike in eastern Paktia province. NATO however, maintained that it had killed “armed combatants” and denied any civilian casualties.

The casualties in the airstrike in Paktia province are the first such casualties since the new government was sworn into power. They remained a major bone of contention between former Afghan President Hamid Karzai the US. In one of his last few statements as President, Karzai had hit out at the US for an airstrike that had killed 14 people, mostly civilians. "As a result of a US aerial bombardment... 11 civilians, including two children and two women, were killed, and 12 more injured," a statement from Karzai’s office said.

This cycle of violence -- including civilians deaths and attacks by Taliban insurgents on security forces and civilians -- come as a majority of foreign troops are set to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of the year. As per the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) signed 9800 United States troops and an additional 2000 NATO forces can remain stationed in Afghanistan after December 2014, which is when all other troops will be withdrawn and which is the date that the international combat mission formally ends.

In fact, violence in Afghanistan has only increased, with recent Taliban attacks including an attack that killed three soldiers belonging to the United States-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) near the US embassy in Kabul in September, a suicide bombing that killed Karzai’s cousin Hashmat Khalil Karzai, the shooting of 15 civilians, two Finnish relief workers, an attack on the Kabul airport, and one of the deadliest attacks since 2001 wherein a sports utility vehicle detonated in a busy market in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan, that killed 90 people.

Civilian casualties have also been on the rise, with a new survey released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in Afghanistan pointing to the “disturbing upward spiral” in the number of civilians killed and wounded in the troubled country. From January 1 to June 30, 2014, UNAMA documented 4,853 civilian casualties, up 24 per cent over the same period in 2013.

“The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas,” said the UN Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš. “The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating.”

Included in the toll were 1,564 civilian deaths (up 17 per cent) and 3,289 injuries (up 28 per cent). Ground engagements caused two of every five civilian casualties in 2014 accounting for 39 per cent of all civilian casualties: 1,901 in total, up 89 per cent from 2013, with 474 civilians killed and 1,427 injured.

Total child civilian casualties increased 34 per cent in the first six months of 2014 to 1,071, including 295 killed and 776 injured, while total women civilian casualties increased 24 per cent to 440, including 148 killed and 292 injured. Ground engagements took the lives of 112 children and injured 408, with the total 520 child casualties, an increase of 111 per cent over 2013. Ground engagements killed 64 Afghan women and injured 192, with the total 256 women casualties, up 61 per cent over 2013.

“In 2014, the fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued disturbing upward spiral,” said UNAMA’s Gagnon.

In the first half of 2014, the Taliban publicly claimed responsibility for 147 attacks that resulted in 553 civilian casualties with 234 civilians killed and 319 injured. While Taliban fighters appeared to direct 76 of these attacks at military targets that indiscriminately harmed civilians, 69 attacks deliberately targeted civilians, including tribal elders, civilian Government and justice sector employees, and civilians in restaurants.

UNAMA attributed 74 per cent of all civilian casualties to anti-Government elements and nine per cent to Pro-Government Forces (eight per cent to Afghan national security forces and one per cent to international military forces), while 12 per cent occurred in ground engagements between insurgents and Afghan forces which could not be attributed to a specific party. The remaining casualties were caused mainly by explosive remnants of war.

Compared with the first six months of 2009, when UNAMA began to monitor civilian casualties, the number of civilians killed by anti-Government elements doubled in 2014 while the number of civilians killed by Pro-Government forces has been cut by half almost entirely due to reduced civilian casualties from aerial operations of international military forces.

The report indicates an upward trend, with a previous UN report indicating that civilian casualties in Afghanistan increased by 14 percent in 2013, making it the most violent year since 2009. If the trend in 2014 continues, the year will be worse in terms of civilian casualties than 2013.