Nearly five years after U.S. forces defeated the Taliban and scattered the al Qaeda terrorists they were protecting, the Taliban and their terror tactics are back.
This year in Afghanistan, roadside bombings are up 30 percent. Suicide bombings are up 100 percent and more than 100 U.S. and NATO troops have been killed. In response, the allies have launched a counter-offensive against the Taliban, killing as many as 60 on Tuesday alone.
CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan obtained unprecedented access to Taliban fighters in one of their new strongholds in Ghazni province. Here is her exclusive report:
Our tense journey into Taliban territory followed six months of negotiations with their commanders. Their nervous liaison insisted I cover everything but my eyes.
As we got closer, these two armed Taliban fighters arrived to "escort" us along the dirt roads through several villages. We were in Ghazni, just two hours south of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
We couldn't film openly, and for the last part of the journey, we were ordered to walk until we finally came upon more than 100 Taliban fighters — America's enemy — brazenly flaunting their weapons in broad daylight.
Men of all ages, many trained over the border inside Pakistan, out of reach of U.S. forces, where the Taliban has been able to reorganize and rearm.
Their senior commander defiantly declared them stronger and more popular than they were before the U.S. invasion. That's a far cry from what I found last time I came to Ghazni.
The U.S. military brought me here more than two years ago to show off how they'd driven the Taliban out. Now the Taliban were showing off their success in taking back some of that ground.
"Before this war American forces were our friends," Ahmad Rahim, the Taliban regional commander, told Logan. "But now, after this occupation and their barbaric cruelty, we are no longer with them."
To get out of Taliban-controlled areas, you have to travel on roads they have mined, so we were given an escort to navigate around the deadly bombs.
Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, admits Ghazni is one of the worst spots in a Taliban resurgence that's made this past year the bloodiest ever for U.S. forces.
"You do have areas of Afghanistan right now, in particular provinces in the south, and in certain districts where Taliban is greater than it was last year," Eikenberry said. "It's a hard enemy that we're up against, an enemy that doesn't know borders."
American officials point to other areas where security is much improved, and play down the fight raging daily in the South. There, NATO took over from U.S. forces in August and lost nine soldiers in their first week. Their commanding general said the situation is much worse than expected.
"There is no doubt people are frustrated and the Taliban are exploiting that sense of frustration," said Lt. Gen. David Richards. "I think the next three to six months are critical."
As long as the Taliban are able to wage war inside Afghanistan, American success will not be assured. Today, they're more confident than ever. On our visit, in a scene unimaginable just two years ago, armed Taliban fighters gathered openly for prayer, weapons at the ready, less than 10 miles from a U.S. base.
Copyright 2006 CBS. All rights reserved.