The United Nations reported Wednesday that civilian casualties were rising rapidly as the Taliban launch more ground attacks and depend less on improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The shift comes as U.S. troops are now serving primarily as advisors to Afghanistan security forces that have taken over combat responsibilities.
"Ground combat among parties to the armed conflict in Afghanistan surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the leading cause of conflict-related death and injury to Afghan civilians in the first six months of 2014," the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported.
Rather than sit back and wait for U.S. troop numbers to drop in Afghanistan, the Taliban have launched attacks in towns and villages resulting in higher numbers of civilian casualties.
"The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas," said Jan Kubis, the head of UNAMA. "The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating."
From Jan. 1 to June 30 this year, UNAMA documented 4,853 civilian casualties, up 24 percent over the same period in 2013. Included in the toll were 1,564 civilian deaths (up 17 percent) and 3,289 injuries (up 28 percent).
The Taliban has also continued its use of suicide bombers. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed four Czech soldiers, two Afghan police and 10 civilians in an attack in northeastern Parwan province.
The Czech soldiers were on a patrol to investigate recent rocket attacks on the nearby Bagram air base. At the time of the blast, the Czech soldiers were mingling with civilians and "the presence of children and women in the crowd was a signal for our troops that the situation is all but safe," said Lt. Gen. Petr Pavel, the Czech chief of Staff.
"The fact that a man mingled with the crowd who seems to have worn the uniform of the Afghan national police and detonated himself could not be expected or prevented," Pavel said, according to Radio Prague. About 250 Czech troops are currently serving with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The deaths of the four Czech soldiers brought the number of coalition troops killed this year to 50 – 34 of them from the U.S. Twelve of the U.S. deaths came in June, the highest monthly toll this year. In 2013, the coalition suffered 160 fatalities, 127 of them from the U.S.
At President Obama's direction, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford , commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, has set ISAF on a course for the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO combat forces by the end of this year.
In May, Obama outlined a plan to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan in training and advisory roles in 2015. The number of those troops would be halved in 2016 and there would be no U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2017 other than Embassy security troops under Obama's plan.
However, that plan was contingent upon the Afghan government signing a new Bilateral Security Agreement for the presence of U.S. troops. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly refused to sign, but the two candidates vying to replace Karzai in the recent election have agreed to do so.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com