Civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared by 24 per cent in the first half of this year, according to UN figures released yesterday, revealing worsening nationwide violence as US-led troops leave after more than a decade fighting the Taliban.
Ground combat is now causing more deaths and injuries than improvised explosive devices in a worrying sign of spreading conflict, the UN report said, with women and children increasingly caught in the crossfire.
"The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas," warned Jan Kubis, the United Nations mission chief in Afghanistan.
"The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating."
In the first six months of this year, the mission documented 4,853 civilian casualties - up 24 percent over the same period last year.
The toll included 1,564 deaths and 3,289 injuries, with ground engagements causing two out of every five civilian casualties this year.
The grim figures underline the fragile security situation Afghanistan faces as it wrestles with political turmoil over its disputed presidential election.
One candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, has refused to accept the result and fears are growing of clashes between rival supporters.