‘The Gloves Are Off’: Top General Says U.S. Demolished $80 Million in Taliban Heroin Labs

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S.-NATO coalition in Afghanistan has pulverized 25 Taliban labs used to process opium and its deadly heroin derivative, depriving the narco-jihadists of $80 million in illegal drug proceeds in the first three weeks of an unprecedented counternarcotics air campaign.

Since November 20, U.S. troops and their Afghan allies have been targeting the Taliban jihadists’ opium business in their Helmand stronghold, the top-poppy producing province in Afghanistan.

Despite more than $8.5 billion in American taxpayer funds devoted to combating the illegal narcotics trade in Afghanistan since 2001, the country remains the top opium producer in the world.

While briefing Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Kabul, Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, a top official with U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), described the ongoing air interdiction efforts as an unprecedented “counter-threat revenue campaign” targeting the Taliban’s opium.

The top American general declared:

This is a new war. The gloves are off, if you will, and we’ve got now these authorities we need to be able to go and target the Taliban network.

The Taliban have never had to face a sustained targeting campaign focused on disrupting their illicit revenue activities … it’s not over.  In fact, it’s only just begun.  And this will be a very long winter for the Taliban, as we will continue to disrupt their revenue sources again and again and again.

CENTCOM is charged with U.S. military activity in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Marking a significant departure from the previous administration, which ended U.S.-led opium interdiction operations in Afghanistan, Trump has granted the American military the authority to target the Taliban’s “economic engine”—opium—with airstrikes.

The Taliban generates up to 60 percent of its annual revenue (estimated at $400 million) from the illicit drug.

Gen. Bunch declared:

Since the beginning of this campaign, we have eliminated 25 narcotics processing labs from the Taliban inventory.  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.

The top general stated that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which includes police and army units, are leading the fight against the Taliban and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan.

Gen. Bunch noted: “The Afghan National Interdiction Unit conducted two simultaneous raids of Taliban narcotics bazaars, as part of this integrated campaign.  This resulted in over 2,000 kilograms of heroin and 5,000 kilograms of opium getting confiscated.”

Early this year, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, reported that there had been an increase in counternarcotics activity in Afghanistan under Trump, following a long hiatus in anti-drug efforts under former President Barack Obama.

U.S. funding for those operations has also increased by several hundred million dollars this year, noted SIGAR.

“The Taliban narcotics leadership was absolutely caught off-guard,” Gen. Bunch told Pentagon reporters, referring to the ongoing air campaign against the terrorist group’s lucrative opium profits.

“Let me be very clear about this [anti-opium] campaign: this offensive was a joint effort between the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, all collectively exercising authorities granted under the South Asia policy,” he added.

President Trump unveiled his new South Asia strategy, primarily focused on the war in Afghanistan, back in August.


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