Early last month, Taliban suicide bombers, all believed to be in their early 20s, raided a compound of an American contractor in a northern province of Afghanistan, killing four security officers and themselves.
A month earlier, a boy about 13 years old crashed a wedding party in Kandahar and detonated his suicide vest, killing more than 40 people and wounding more than 80.
Those attacks are part of a troubling trend, according to some U.S. intelligence officers, in which young Afghanis radicalized by nearly nine years of war with Western forces are opting for suicide martyrdom rather than the traditional role of conventional fighting under a local warlord.
Terrorist groups from Pakistan and foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, Palestine and elsewhere have sown a form of jihad that resonates among the younger generation, officials told The Washington Examiner.
The emerging Taliban generation is "more brutal than what we have seen in the past and it is something we are very concerned could get much worse," said an Afghan official.
The youthful insurgents are "Taliban X, and we just don't know what they will do in the future when their older commanders die off and they take their place," said an American military official in Afghanistan.
In early July, International Security Assistance Forces issued a statement linking Taliban fighters to al Qaeda and a Pakistani Taliban leader.
"Afghan and international security force killed several insurgents and detained two suspected insurgents in Ghazni province ... while pursuing a Taliban commander in direct contact with Taliban leadership in Pakistan and associated with al Qaeda and Commander Nazir Group," the statement said.
Military officials say Taliban fighters in their teens and twenties are different from the Taliban that emerged from the wreckage of the original Taliban movement, which was crushed by American air power and an alliance of Afghan fighters in 2001 and 2002.
That iteration of the Taliban had not "adopted the sort of jihadist or terrorist line of thinking that you see with al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations," said a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"We have seen that the younger generation are much more open to the jihad message," he said.
The younger insurgent fighters grew up for the most part in squalid refugee camps near Peshawar or around Quetta. "All they know is the refugee camps in Pakistan," the official said.
Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani group that is the largest terrorist organization in South Asia, is one of the groups influencing the young Taliban.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul late last month that Lashkar-e-Taiba is "a very dangerous organization and a significant regional and global threat."
Recruitment of young Afghan fighters and indoctrination into jihadist thinking is one of those threats. Lashkar-e-Taiba has increased its presence not only in the provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar in the east and Kandahar to the south, but in the capital of Kabul, according to defense officials. The upcoming Sept. 18 parliamentary elections are a major concern for both U.S. military and Afghan officials, who are already seeing record numbers of attacks in the country.
"We are in for record high violence levels the rest of this year," an American official predicted.
Groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba are similar to al Qaeda. They are motivated by the idea of establishing a Muslim caliphate in South Asia. They practice Wahhabism, a radical Islamist school of thought born in Saudi Arabia that promotes martyrdom, said a U.S. intelligence official with direct knowledge of the region.
"It's why they are indoctrinating the younger Afghans into their beliefs, and the younger generation is more apt to follow this train of thought," he said.
Other terrorist groups such as Pakistan's Tehrik-e-Taliban, the main Pakistani Taliban umbrella group fighting both NATO and the Pakistani government, are also on the rise in Afghanistan.
They operate in areas just south of Nuristan province in the east, where six American aid workers were executed along with four other people last week.
For the foreign terror networks, "an Afghanistan front allows them to continue in a jihad and gain operational experience," a U.S. defense official said.