By many accounts from international correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan, Taliban militants are continuing to make rapid gains - particularly through unpredictable hit-and-run tactics - also in places that airstrikes prove difficult to deploy given fighting sometimes erupts in urban areas.
Especially on the outskirts of the southern province of Kandahar, a mere few hundred Taliban insurgents have kept exhausted and stretched thin US-trained Afghan commandos guessing through ambush tactics. A detailed Reuters report capturing action as it unfolded on the ground this week begins by describing:
The highly trained troops had been called in to flush out insurgents who attacked regular forces and local police hours earlier, only to find that the Taliban had disappeared into the darkness leaving behind a few civilians and wounded soldiers.
"We received a report that the enemy had infiltrated here and wanted to overthrow the district," Major Mohammad din Tasir, a member of the special forces unit deployed in the Taliban's former stronghold of Kandahar, told Reuters after the operation. The report had suggested up to 300 Taliban fighters were present in the area, he said.
The experience of heavily armed Afghan commandos showing up to an area only to find that moments earlier the Taliban presence had "melted away" has led Kabul officials to tout this as proof last week's claim from Taliban leadership that the terror group controls 85% of the country to be greatly exaggerated and misleading.
This experience is being replicated across the country, suggesting the national military is in for a frustrating, possibly losing battle against a disciplined Taliban insurgency set on weakening the national forces' resolve, also as Kabul is under pressure given Biden and other defense officials' recent urging Afghan forces to stand up and take control of the country for themselves (ironically something the US could hardly do throughout much of the over two-decade long war and occupation).
A similar account published Tuesday by a war correspondent details a harrowing ambush, also in Kandahar:
Minutes after returning from a mission on Tuesday before dawn, a convoy of exhausted Afghan commandos were speeding back out of their base to try to extract a wounded policeman trapped by Taliban insurgents on the outskirts of Kandahar.
As they approached the checkpoint where policeman Ahmad Shah had been holed up alone for 18 hours, some 30-40 special forces soldiers in a line of Humvees came under automatic weapons fire, according to a Reuters reporter travelling with them.
A gun battle erupted as the convoy forced its way to Shah's position, and he was hurriedly loaded into one of the vehicles. Then came a series of loud explosions; the first three of eight Humvees were struck by rockets and too badly damaged to continue. In the ensuing confusion, commandos inside the disabled vehicles rushed to switch trucks. Gunfire appeared to be coming from all around; from a cemetery to the left and the heavy cover of Eucalyptus trees to the right.
The ambush reportedly resulted in no deaths among the commandos, only a police injury, yet it underscores how easily the Taliban can quickly move with ease in a number of contested provinces to quickly hit thinly stretched army units in civilian areas, and then disappear just as fast.
Brutal Taliban Massacre: Taliban executes 22 Afghan Commandoes after asking them to surrender in Afghanistan. This is just a glimpse of how Taliban is going to operate in the coming weeks and months. Disturbing visuals. pic.twitter.com/UBAY5VLefV— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) July 13, 2021
The episode also highlights another pressing problem: American-trained security forces (that Washington has spent billions if not trillions propping up over many years) including police and army units are abandoning their posts in droves often at the first hint of a Taliban offensive.
Reuters cited Shah, the wounded policeman who was pinned down, who explained: "We were 15 people (policemen), and all my comrades surrendered (to the Taliban) except me." He added: "I told myself that I'm not going to do that, and as long as I have a gun, why I should give up?"
Given we've not even yet reached Biden's stated "military mission complete" date of August 31, the proverbial writing is on the wall in terms of the expected Taliban offensive of Kabul, after US intelligence recently warned the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government could come as early as six months.
However. that estimate itself is looking increasingly optimistic as the Taliban is said to still be making rapid gains.