Afghanistan has seen a series of deadly attacks conducted by the Taliban and Daesh that have killed more than 200 people since the end of last month. With an increase US troop presence in the country, civilians feel that nobody can protect them.
An ambulance packed with explosives, a 15-hour siege at the Intercontinental Hotel and an attack on the offices of Save the Children in Jalalabad are all part of a never-ending list of assaults on Afghanistan that have taken place over the past week.
In the latest attack on Monday, militants targeted an army outpost near a military academy in the Afghan capital Kabul, killing at least 11 soldiers.
Daesh claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on the army battalion and office of Save the Children, while the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Intercontinental Hotel siege and the ambulance bomb.
The militant onslaught appears to have intensified since the beginning of the year and aid groups are now also reassessing their presence in the country.
According to a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the number of casualties in Afghanistan during the first six months of 2017 has reached a record high.
The number of women who have died has increased by 23 percent since 2016. An estimated 174 women have been killed and another 462 injured in the Afghan conflict.
In addition to these numbers, 436 children have also been killed and around 1,141 have been injured.
According to the report, 1,662 civilians were killed by anti-government forces between January 1 and June 30.
But there is confusion over the true number of casualties in the country, as conflicting numbers come from officials, with the Afghan media reporting higher numbers.
The wave of attacks has put pressure on President Ashraf Ghani, while US allies have expressed growing confidence that a new, more aggressive military strategy has succeeded in driving Taliban insurgents back from major provincial centres.
"The Afghan National Army is the country's defence force and makes sacrifices for the security and well-being of the people," Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence said.
The United States stepped up its assistance to Afghan security forces and increased its air strikes against the Taliban and other militant groups, aiming to break a stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.
But civilians in Afghanistan believe the government cannot do much to protect them.
"Look at what is happening to this nation—when you are not able to control the current situation, it's better you resign. What kind of government and ministry is this? You are not even able to secure the city, how can we complain about the government securing the provinces?" an Afghan national told Reuters.
The Afghan government routinely blames the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network for the attacks, while also accusing Pakistan of supporting the group. Islamabad denies the accusations.
The Haqqani group, that had fought the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, has maintained close links with the Taliban since the mid-1990’s and some analysts believe the group is supported by Pakistan.
A message to Trump?
The Taliban said the ambulance attack was a message to Trump.
The US president responded to the attack saying, “This murderous attack renews our resolve and that of our Afghan partners. The Taliban’s cruelty will not prevail.”
“The United States is committed to a secure Afghanistan that is free from terrorists who would target Americans, our allies, and anyone who does not share their wicked ideology,” Trump said. “Now, all countries should take decisive action against the Taliban and the terrorist infrastructure that supports them.”
Trump has recently also announced a surge in US troop presence in Afghanistan, contrary to policies of his predecessor Obama, who favoured a withdrawal instead.
And while the war continues, militants have adapted their ways. In a race to see who will prevail, the attacks in Afghanistan are evolving.
Militants are moving away from "traditional" suicide attacks. The Taliban would previously adopt ambush tactics and largely focus on military or police positions.
However, recent attacks have resulted in more civilian casualties, as they are executed in urban areas with a minimal US presence.
Daesh uses civilian shields, often mingling with locals.
The ambulance attack on January 27 is one example of militants seeking different, smarter ways to conduct attacks in the country.
In a previous attack, Taliban militants used Humvees stolen from Afghan security forces and packed them with explosives, managing to make their way outside an army base, killing 43 soldiers.
Kabul remains on high alert as the city braces for further attacks. Security warnings sent to foreigners in recent days said Daesh militants were planning to attack supermarkets, hotels and shops frequented by foreigners.
Militants have stepped up their attacks on beleaguered Afghan troops and police in recent months, weakening public confidence already hit by desertions and corruption.
A peace deal that would require all sides to come to the table is not on the horizon, as both increased US presence, as well as Afghanistan’s stance, hints that the war in the country is not close to an end.
Efforts to eliminate terrorism in Afghanistan are focusing on the Taliban, as it is the biggest militant group operating in the country. But Daesh is gaining a foothold, as both Afghans and the US have little to no control throughout much of the country.