Signs from Afghanistan are pointing to ever-increasing intensity of the 16-year-old conflict. Over a two day period, Taliban militants executed a string of highly effective attacks in different locations throughout the country.
There is no easy way to put this: The Taliban is increasing their operations both in quantity and sophistication.
In the first incident, international media reported that four US soldiers were injured when a vehicle-borne explosive detonated in Kandahar. According to these reports, the explosion occurred near the Kandahar Air Base, a major center of American military operations which also functions as the region's largest airport, highlighting the Taliban’s preference for those targets. The four wounded are reportedly in stable condition.
In a second attack in the city of Farah, Taliban gunmen attacked a police checkpoint installed to manage the security of travelers near the city. The attack, which lasted only fifteen minutes, resulted in the deaths of eight officers and at least one wounded.
Perhaps the most disturbing news came in a series of attacks pulled off by what Afghan officials are referring to as the “Red Unit.” This group of highly trained Taliban fighters are equipped with sophisticated gear and weapons including night vision goggles and American M-4 assault rifles topped with laser sites - hence the term “Red Unit” attributed to them.
According to reports, the Red Unit recently executed five separate attacks over a 36 hour period on various targets in different areas of Kandahar. One operation included a “rolling attack” on fifteen separate police stations which left 23 officers dead.
These attacks utilized new tactics, such as “trojan horse” style attacks, approaching security installations disguised as Afghan forces, or in Afghan army vehicles. Other attacks came in the dead of night when under cover of darkness, the Unit was able to utilize their night vision equipment to pick off helpless Afghan soldiers. As one spokesman for the governor of Kandahar Province put it, the appearance of a unit of this level speaks to the developing strategy of the Taliban.
All these incidents have culminated in a relentless trend of attacks over the past several weeks.
Kandahar province specifically has been hit by some very serious attacks including a twin suicide attack against an Afghan army base. The explosions and the subsequent firefight with militants killed 43 Afghan military personnel, essentially wiping out the base.
This escalation by the Taliban has been paralleled on the American side as well.
Military officials have opted to drastically upscale the amount of airpower in the country beginning with the delivery of 159 Black Hawk helicopters that will be flown by Afghan pilots, to create a “tsunami of airpower” in the country. According to statements by officials, this ramping up of air assets in Afghanistan has been made possible due to the decreasing need for sorties in Iraq and Syria following decisive victories against ISIS. This means that the average of 2,000 bombs dropped every month in those countries will now be able to be transferred to Afghanistan.
The fact that many of these approved increases in airpower will only be implemented over the next several years shows that the US military planners foresee a very long-term commitment in the country.