By Erik de Castro

As I write this blog, I am on the 38th day of my current assignment to Afghanistan as an embedded journalist with U.S. military forces. I have been assigned here several times since 2001 to cover the war that is still going on 10 years after the al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil. Mullah Omar, popularly known as the one-eyed Taliban, was the first member of the Taliban I met back in 2001. He held press conferences almost daily at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan a few weeks before U.S. forces and its allies attacked Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government.

Ten years and several trips back to Afghanistan later, I still haven’t seen a lot of Taliban fighters. My present assignment is the time I’ve experienced the most encounters between the combined U.S. and Afghan forces and the Taliban.

It is remarkable how the Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters are more aggressive now. The insurgents, though they know their artillery is no match to that of the Americans, are daring enough to attack at every opportunity, be it with small arms, RPGs or, on occasions, IEDs and rockets. Most of the time, it is a β€œhit and run” kind of attack wherein they flee after firing some shots. Such eagerness, however, could cost lives.

In Kunar province last week, U.S. and Afghan military engaged insurgents near Combat Pirtle King close to the Pakistan border. I saw Afghan soldiers unloading from the back of their armored vehicle the bodies of two Taliban fighters killed in the encounter. They also captured a wounded insurgent. The Taliban fighters looked barely out of their teens, had unkept long hair and beard, giving the impression that they have been in the mountains for some time.

Afghan soldiers from the joint U.S.-Afghan forces also show the same boldness although their moves are more calculated. On one of our patrols, we saw a white Taliban flag mounted on top of a hill in an area that is known to be a Taliban stronghold. Without hesitation, Afghan soldiers went up the hill to seize the flag as U.S. soldiers watched their backs. There was a fire fight but it was brief as the Taliban immediately fled on motorcycles.