KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 54 people have been killed across Afghanistan in the past 24 hours, according to a tally based on interviews with officials on Sunday — 17 years to the day American forces invaded the country to topple the Taliban regime.
The violence was a reminder that the war has only raged deadlier with time, taking a toll on both the Afghan security forces and the civilians caught in the crossfire. On average, the conflict has taken the lives of 30 to 40 Afghan forces and at least 13 civilians a day. There are no tangible signs of momentum for peace talks with the Taliban.
Among the killed were at least 35 members of Afghan security forces and 19 civilians. While most of the fatalities of the security forces came from Taliban attacks, residents and local officials said a majority of the civilian casualties in the past 24 hours had resulted from two episodes of firing by government forces in central Afghanistan and an airstrike in the country’s east that they said was carried out by the United States. American forces denied they had carried out a strike in the area.
A large number of Taliban fighters were also killed in attacks that Afghan officials said they had carried out in 14 of the country’s 34 provinces. But the toll was difficult to verify; analysts estimate Taliban casualties usually number about the same as Afghan forces, if not more because of the airpower used against them.
[Read our weekly tally of the long-running conflict in the Afghan War Casualty Report.]
The deadliest of the attacks was an early morning raid by the Taliban on the Sayed Abad District of Wardak Province, which falls on the main highway about 60 miles outside Kabul, the capital. The highway remained blocked for hours — the Taliban had blown up a bridge — before it was reopened by the security forces.
Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said 14 police officers, including Col. Sayed Nezrab Shah, the district police chief who had lost his leg in a battle three years ago, were killed.
“His leg was bothering him — it was cut off at the knee, and it would still bleed,” said Naqibullah Amini, a friend of Colonel Shah’s. “He was saving money, and he had prepared his passport to go abroad for better treatment. He was just waiting for the security situation to get better.”
In northern Faryab Province, Taliban fighters overran two police outposts in Pashtun Kot District early on Sunday. Ten police officers and a civilian woman were killed, according to Mohammad Azam, the head of the criminal investigation department with the district police.
Most of the civilian casualties happened in Paktia Province, in eastern Afghanistan. Local residents said a convoy carrying an elite Afghan strike force, trained and run by the Central Intelligence Agency, had come under attack late Friday. Leaving behind two burned vehicles, the unit escaped the area, where a brutal wing of the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, remains influential.
When locals gathered around the vehicles early on Saturday afternoon, aircraft began bombing the area, according to Haji Gadlon Zadran, a local elder.
“Ten villagers were killed, and 21 were wounded.” he said. “The ages of killed persons were 9 to 12 and all of them were innocent villagers.”
Qadir Khan, the district governor of the district, Gerda Serai, confirmed that 10 civilians were killed and said the strike was under investigation.
American airstrikes in support of the Afghan forces have increased in recent months, as the government’s security forces have struggled to hold the line against the Taliban. Publicly available data from the United States military show that 746 bombs were dropped in July, and 522 in September. The Afghan air force has also conducted an increasing number of airstrikes.
It was unclear who carried out the strike in Paktia Province. American forces denied they were responsible for it, while a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry did not reply to questions.
“I can confirm no coalition or U.S. forces were involved in strikes at this location during the time period,” said Cmdr. Grant Neeley, a spokesman for the United States force in Afghanistan.
Another episode, reflecting the blurred, dangerous state of affairs across the country, occurred in the central province of Ghor, where Afghan forces on Saturday carried out an operation to arrest a local militia commander the government has accused of abuses.
Supporters of the commander, Shamsher Alipoor, have said he was leading a local force to fill the security gap against encroaching Taliban militants.
Abdul Hai Khatibi, the spokesman for provincial governor of Ghor, said Commander Alipoor had engaged in clashes with security forces, killing four police officers and seven civilians. He fled the scene, and a government chase for him continued on Sunday, Mr. Khatibi said.
But some relatives of the victims blamed the government for the civilian deaths. One of those critics was Reza Nazari, whose sister, Amina Nazari, 48, had been killed in the violence. She lost her husband to illness seven years ago, he said, and worked as a social worker for a nongovernmental organization. She was the main breadwinner for a family of four.
Farooq Jan Mangal contributed reporting from Khost, Najim Rahim from Mazar e Sharif, and Mohammad Saber from Herat, Afghanistan.