U.S.-NATO troops have demolished “30 Taliban narcotics processing labs” in less than three months, dealing the narco-jihadists a “more than $20 million” blow to their drug operations, primarily made up of trafficking opium and heroin, a spokesman for the international coalition in Afghanistan told Breitbart News.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kone Faulkner, a spokesman for the U.S.-NATO mission officially known as Resolute Support (RS), told Breitbart News via email:
Since the first strikes, less than three months ago, we have been targeting the enemy’s [Taliban] financial streams. Our combined operations have destroyed 30 Taliban narcotics processing labs, denying this narcotic-insurgency more than $20 million and drug trafficking organizations more than $80 million of drug money.
Remember that this is only the beginning of our counter-threat revenue campaign in the war. Additionally, the Afghan National Interdiction Unit conducted two simultaneous raids of Taliban narcotics bazaars, as a part of this integrated campaign.
Marking a significant departure from the previous administration, U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the American military to target the Taliban’s economic engine—opium and heroin—with airstrikes as part of his Afghanistan war strategy unveiled in August 2017.
In collaboration with their Afghan partners, RS troops began bombing heroin and opium processing labs last November.
On November 19 alone, the U.S. military and its Afghan counterpart annihilated ten opium and heroin processing labs, recently revealed the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), an American watchdog agency.
Although the watchdog group learned from Reuters that “it would take three or four days to replace a lab in Afghanistan,” Faulkner insisted that targeting the facilities with airstrikes is more efficient than going after the opium fields.
SIGAR argues that, while it takes tens of thousands of American taxpayer funds to operate U.S. warplanes involved in bombing heroin labs, the facilities “being destroyed are cheap and easy to replace.”
“According to the latest DOD [U.S. Department of Defense] financial management report, an F-22 costs between $35,294 and $36,799 per hour to operate; a B-52 between $32,569 and $34,341 per hour; and an F/A-18 between $9,798 and $16,173 per hour, depending on the model,” John Sopko, the SIGAR chief, reported.
Asked by Breitbart News why the U.S. military is sparing the opium fields while pulverizing the labs used to process the illicit drug, Lt. Col Faulkner explained:
Weapons we have selected are successfully disrupting the Taliban drug processing facilities, blocking their ability to purchase weapons to continue to terrorize innocent civilians. … The strikes do not target poppy fields but rather opium processing facilities in order to avoid causing irrevocable damage to the soil that farmers, who are forced to grow poppy, depend on to sustain themselves and their families with other consumable crops.
Additionally, the future ecosystem and a major potential resource for Afghanistan’s future. Instead, every precaution is taken to minimize civilian casualties both prior to and during operations.
Targeting the Taliban leadership, financiers, trainers, and logistics elements is a significant component of Trump’s South Asia strategy, the official name given to the president’s plan to end the Afghanistan war.
The Afghan war has been raging for more than 16 years, since October 2001, in response to 9/11. Despite the U.S. having already spent about $8.7 billion on counternarcotics operations since the war started, Afghanistan remains the top producer of opium and heroin in the world, reaching an unprecedented level of production last year.
Afghanistan is now producing nearly 50 times more opium than in 2001, when the Taliban had instituted a ban on the drug.
“Destroying support networks will prevent the Taliban insurgency from continuing to attack innocent civilians and degrade their combat power,” noted the U.S.-NATO mission spokesman.
SIGAR reported that the DEA estimates the Taliban actively operates “as many as 400–500” opium facilities in Afghanistan at any given time.
Besides opium and heroin, the top source of funding for the Afghan Taliban, the jihadist group, described as a “criminal or narco-insurgency” by the U.S. military, is also involved in trafficking marijuana products like hashish.
The Taliban has continued to gain territory even after the implementation of Trump’s strategy.
Currently, the Taliban controls or contests about 45 percent of the country, according to the U.S.-NATO mission.
BBC found that the Taliban maintains a presence in 70 percent of the country.
According to SIGAR, the record number of airstrikes launched under President Trump have failed to strengthen the Afghan government’s control over the country.
“The expanded authorities provided [by President Trump] to U.S. forces in Afghanistan have resulted in a significant uptick in U.S. air strikes and special operations against the insurgency, with the U.S. dropping 653 munitions in October 2017, a record high since 2012 and a more than three-fold increase from October 2016,” noted the inspector general.
“These actions have yet to increase the Afghan government’s control over its population. … The goal of the Afghan government is to control 80% of its population within the next two years,” it adds.