A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress recently launched an unprecedented 24 strikes on Taliban jihadists operating in a northern Afghanistan province that borders China, “setting a record” of the most bombs “ever dropped from a B-52,” the American military-NATO mission announced.
“The Taliban have nowhere to hide,” declared American Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S.-NATO troops in Afghanistan. “There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group bent on bringing harm and destruction to this country.”
“The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield. Therefore, they inflict harm and suffering on innocent civilians,” he added. “All they can do is kill innocent people and destroy what other people have built.”
Late last year, Gen. Nicholson said the Taliban has three choices, “Reconcile [with the Afghan government], live in irrelevance, or die.”
In a press release announcing the expansion of its air campaign to Northern Afghanistan, the U.S.-NATO mission, officially known as Resolute Support (RS), noted:
Over the past 96 hours, U.S. forces conducted air operations to strike Taliban training facilities in Badakhshan province, preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the border with China and Tajikistan. The strikes also destroyed stolen Afghan National Army vehicles that were in the process of being converted to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.
During these strikes, a U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress dropped 24 precision guided munitions on Taliban fighting positions, setting a record of the most guided munitions ever dropped from a B-52.
The announcement of the record number strikes near China came on the same day that a top Pentagon official told Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is promoting counterterrorism cooperation with Beijing in Afghanistan.
Marking a significant shift from the previous administration, U.S. President Donald Trump has authorized the military to target the Afghan Taliban’s skyrocketing heroin and opium operations, which the deputy secretary of State told the Senate panel now provide “65 percent” of the group’s funding.
The Taliban stronghold of Helmand is the top opium-producing province in Afghanistan, the world’s chief supplier of the illegal drug and its heroin derivative.
“Continued U.S. strikes disrupt Taliban support networks in Helmand province, as well as destroy their sources of revenue such as illegal narcotics,” pointed out the RS mission.
“Ongoing strikes in Helmand continue to degrade Taliban revenue sources and safe havens. U.S. strikes and ASSF [Afghan Special Security Forces] raids have resulted in the removal of more than $30 million of Taliban revenue since the campaign began in November 2017,” added the press release.
Under President Trump, the U.S. military has launched a record number of airstrikes against terrorist groups such as the Taliban and its alleged rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Nevertheless, both groups continue to get stronger and expand their influence in Afghanistan.
ISIS has “metastasized” in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, home to the highest concentration of U.S.-designated terrorist groups in the world, top Trump administration officials told the Senate committee.
During a separate hearing that day held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Dr. Seth Jones from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told lawmakers that Pentagon data shows “there has been a slight increase in Taliban control or influence of Afghanistan’s population.”
Echoing the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, Jones noted that the Taliban controls or contests more than 40 percent of the country.
China is Pakistan’s top economic and military ally. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has deteriorated in recent months after President Trump suspended security aid to Islamabad over its ongoing reluctance to take action against jihadists.
U.S. officials hope that China can use its influence to persuade Pakistan to take action against terrorist groups and bring the Afghan Taliban to the peace negotiation table, indicated Jeff Smith, an expert at the Heritage Foundation when testifying before the House panel on Tuesday.
China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang province borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a region claimed by Islamabad, Beijing, and their rival New Delhi.
Xinjiang is home to China’s oppressed Uighur Muslim minority, many of whom have joined jihadist groups known to operate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.