Joint US-Afghan Air Strikes Target Taliban’s Opium Factories
U.S. and Afghan Air Forces struck ten different poppy-processing facilities in Southern Afghanistan on Sunday, Nov. 19, according to the top U.S. general in the region.
The strikes are a result of a plan by President Donald Trump to cut off the Taliban’s drug revenue.
“Our combined operations over the last 24 hours are a demonstration of our will to defeat terrorists and those who support them, especially the narcotics networks,” said Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, told reporters.
"Last night, we conducted strikes into Northern Helmand to hit the Taliban where it hurts: their narcotics financing." -Gen. Nicholson, USFOR-A #AFGStrong https://t.co/RLjDdSYTlI @CENTCOM @USAFCENT @DeptofDefense @TOLOnews @pajhwok @HM_Kakar @1TVNewsAF @ArianaNews_ @KhalilNoori pic.twitter.com/152rTR236z
— USForces Afghanistan (@USFOR_A) November 20, 2017
“We hit the labs where they turn poppy into heroin, Nicholson continued. “We hit their storage facilities where they keep their final product, where they stockpile their money and their command and control.”
According to Gen. Nicholson, the strikes are going to continue. He told reporters at the Pentagon that there are 400–500 such processing plants in Afghanistan. “These operations will continue on in the coming days. We are not going to let up.”
Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). According to a report by the office, in 2007, Afghanistan produced 93 percent of the non-prescription opiates sold around the world.
Gen. Nicholson said at a Pentagon briefing on Dec. 2, 2016, that the United States believes the drug trade “provides about 60 percent of the Taliban funding.”
According to UNODC, 50 percent of Afghanistan’s opium crop comes from Helmand Province, where the airstrikes were.
Operation Jagged Knife
The military calls the current strategic initiative “Operation Jagged Knife.” The aim is to cut off the Taliban’s income, much like the way the military struck at the oil fields and other income sources used by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani announced the campaign via Twitter on Monday.
Last night, Afghan and US forces launched operations in Helmand to abolish opium processing labs. 8 labs were destroyed on day one. We're determined to tackle criminal economy and narcotics trafficking with full force. It's the main source of financing violence and terror.
— Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) November 20, 2017
Nicholson made similar remarks. Past policy focused on combat strikes used only when there was a direct threat to U.S. or allied forces. Trump’s new policy gives the military the freedom to act more strategically, by cutting off the cash the Taliban needs to continue its terrorism.
“The new authorities allow me to go after the revenue streams of the enemy,” Nicholson said, according to CNN.
Nicholson emphasized that the military would strike only drug processing facilities, not the opium fields, where Afghan citizens are often forced to farm poppies for the Taliban. “We are not going after the farmers that are growing the poppy,” he said.
Wide Variety of Weapons
The raids so far have employed a broad array of attack vehicles.
The United States contributed F-16s out of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and B-52s flying out of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The B-52s dropped 2,000-pound bombs. Afghan Air Force A-29’s also participated.
A U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth fighter played a role, as did unmanned drones. Marine Corps infantry also added some rocket fire, UPI reports.
Rising Opium Production Brings Explosive Response
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter-Narcotics and UNODC reported that Afghanistan increased poppy cultivation from 452,000 acres in 2015 to 497,000 acres in 2016, increasing opium output from 3,300 tons to 4,800 tons.
The report notes that from a 10-percent increase in acreage, drug producers managed a 43-percent increase in opium production.
UNODC states that the opium trade accounts for 16 percent of Afghanistan’s economy.
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