Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers have delivered a record-setting load of ordnance on Taliban opium factories in Afghanistan, an Air Force general announced on Dec. 12.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch held a video teleconference from Kabul, Afghanistan, on Dec. 12 in which he discussed the success the United States has had with its new Afghanistan strategy, which includes attacking the Taliban’s drug labs.
Briefing reporters from Kabul, Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch says under new authorities given by Trump, US aircraft has taken out out 25 drug labs in Afghanistan in 3 weeks, destroying $16 million of Taliban's drug money
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) December 12, 2017
“On November 20th, General Nicholson discussed the opening salvo of airstrikes against the Taliban’s opium and heroin enterprise in northern Helmand,” Bunch began. “Today, I’d like to update you on what the Afghans and we have been able to accomplish in only three short weeks.”
“Since the beginning of this campaign, we have eliminated 25 narcotics processing labs from the Taliban inventory,” he continued.
“This equates to almost $80 million of drug money eliminated from the kingpins’ pockets while denying over $16 million of direct revenue to their Taliban partners. Keep in mind that this is the first time we have persistently used our airpower in this interdiction role,” he said
Bunch then mentioned almost in passing that a new version of the venerable B-52 bomber had been used for the first time.
“So, we’ve used so far, we’ve used B-52s with their new conventional rotary launcher. Of note, it was the single most, largest number of precision munitions ever dropped from a B-52,” he said.
Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart elaborated in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
B-52s from 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron flying out of the Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, were used in the strike, Pickart reported.
He explained that these were the first B-52s fitted with what the Air Force calls the conventional rotary launcher (CRL). This device lets the aircraft to carry eight additional precision-guided munitions (PGM) in their internal weapon bays.
“Combined with PGMs carried on the wing pylons, the CRL allowed the B-52 to carry more PGMs than any previous mission. These guided munitions allowed us to effectively destroy the targets while mitigating the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties,” Pickart told the Washington Examiner.
“This marks the first time the CRL has been used in a major operation,” Pickart concluded.
New Strategy for an Old War
After 16 years of stalemate, President Trump announced a new direction in Afghanistan on Aug. 21.
The military’s new Afghanistan strategy is more active than reactive and focuses on cutting off the Taliban from funds.
“Using air power, we have been able to target the Taliban in their so-called safe zones, command and control nodes, illicit revenue-generating ventures, and their logistical networks,” Bunch explained.
Bunch explained that the Taliban’s annual budget was “between $300 million and $500 million a year.” Two hundred million of that comes from the drug trade, and the vast majority of the drug labs are in northern Helmand Province, he said.
“We targeted there to disrupt their revenue, to prevent their ability to reset or refit over the winter,” he stated.
“We will continue to target them and disrupt them wherever we find them,” he said.
Another emphasis is on arming and enabling the Afghan army and air force to take on more of the combat.
“Our number one priority here is to continue to build the capacity of the Afghan defense forces,” Bunch told a reporter.
“We’re doubling the size of the Afghan special operations forces, we’re tripling the size of the Afghan air force, the two most lethal components and those units continue to conduct operations,” he said.
“With the air interdiction campaign, we are able to go after the Taliban’s support structure, whereas before we could only strike essentially in defense of the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces ) forces that were in contact with the enemy,” Bunch continued.
“Now we’re able to go after their weapons cache sites, their revenue generation, their C2 nodes. All the areas where they thought they were safe and they are no longer so. That is our new strategy going forward and it’s definitely been a game-changer and the Taliban is definitely feeling it,” he said.
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