United States begins bombing Taliban opium plants in Afghanistan

Pakistan       by Mahmood Idrees | Published

The United States has launched its first counter-narcotics military offensive in partnership with local allies in Afghanistan to try to deprive the resurgent Taliban of its largest source of funding. He labeled the Taliban's activities as "narco-insurgency".

General Nicholson characterized the Taliban as a criminal drug organization masquerading as religious and political leaders.

On the other hand, not targeting the farmers: "They are hostages of their debts and live under the threat of the taliban", he said.

"Specifically, in striking northern Helmand and the drug enterprises there, we're hitting the Taliban where it hurts, which is their finances", he said.

According to general John Nichoslon, the operation, conducted jointly with the afghan army in the night from Sunday to Monday, has allowed the destruction of eight laboratories processing opium into heroin in Helmand province, the "province of the opium poppy for the most part, under control of the taliban".

"This is going to be steady pressure that's going to stay up and we are not going to let up", he said.

In Afghanistan, the opium economy nearly doubled in 2016, to about $3 billion, and amounted to around 16 percent of the country's gross domestic product, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The Taliban profits from the illegal drug trade by taxing poppy farmers and traffickers across the war-torn country, pocketing an estimated $200 million a year, official data shows.

Nicholson said the strikes were ongoing Monday.

US Forces began identifying drug labs to hit after President Donald Trump's strategy announcement in August made it easier for American air power to proactively target the Taliban and its sources of revenue and infrastructure.

Afghanistan's opium production has almost doubled this year compared to 2016, while areas that are under poppy cultivation rose by 63 percent, according to a joint survey released last week by the United Nations and the Afghan government.

"Based on the new authorities I've received in the last 90 days with the USA policy announcement, we started developing targets immediately", he said. These strikes are the first use of those authorities that allow USA forces to actively pursue terrorist elements and attack them offensively in collaboration with Afghan forces.

The new policy, he said, also focuses on going after the havens or sanctuaries the Taliban and its allies enjoy outside of Afghanistan.

Nicholson noted previous authorities required USA forces to be operating in proximity to Afghan forces, so the US forces could strike in defense of the Afghan forces.

"We have had numerous high-level engagements between the United States and Pakistan so that we can get Pakistan to work with us in eliminating these safe havens of the enemy".

For their part, authorities in Pakistan deny the existence of any insurgent sanctuaries on its soil.

Related News: