US, Afghan Forces Strike Opium Factories

By Chris Jasurek

U.S. and Afghan Air Forces struck ten different poppy-processing facilities in Southern Afghanistan on Sunday, Nov. 19, according to the top U.S. general in the region.

The strikes are a result of a plan by President Donald Trump to cut off the Taliban’s drug revenue.

“Our combined operations over the last 24 hours are a demonstration of our will to defeat terrorists and those who support them, especially the narcotics networks,” said Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, told reporters.

“We hit the labs where they turn poppy into heroin, Nicholson continued. “We hit their storage facilities where they keep their final product, where they stockpile their money and their command and control.”

According to Gen. Nicholson, the strikes are going to continue. He told reporters at the Pentagon that there are 400–500 such processing plants in Afghanistan. “These operations will continue on in the coming days. We are not going to let up.”

Afghan farmers harvest opium sap from their poppy fields in the Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar province on April 21, 2017. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
Afghan farmers harvest opium sap from their poppy fields in the Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar province on April 21, 2017. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). According to a report by the office, in 2007, Afghanistan produced 93 percent of the non-prescription opiates sold around the world.

Gen. Nicholson said at a Pentagon briefing on Dec. 2, 2016, that the United States believes the drug trade “provides about 60 percent of the Taliban funding.”

According to UNODC, 50 percent of Afghanistan’s opium crop comes from Helmand Province, where the airstrikes were.

An Afghan policeman stands guard as a pile of narcotics is destroyed by officials in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, on March 3, 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)
An Afghan policeman stands guard as a pile of narcotics is destroyed by officials in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, on March 3, 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)

Operation Jagged Knife

The military calls the current strategic initiative “Operation Jagged Knife.” The aim is to cut off the Taliban’s income, much like the way the military struck at the oil fields and other income sources used by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani announced the campaign via Twitter on Monday.

Nicholson made similar remarks. Past policy focused on combat strikes used only when there was a direct threat to U.S. or allied forces. Trump’s new policy gives the military the freedom to act more strategically, by cutting off the cash the Taliban needs to continue its terrorism.

“The new authorities allow me to go after the revenue streams of the enemy,” Nicholson said, according to CNN.

Nicholson emphasized that the military would strike only drug processing facilities, not the opium fields, where Afghan citizens are often forced to farm poppies for the Taliban. “We are not going after the farmers that are growing the poppy,” he said.

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron takes off on a combat sortie from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Sept. 22, 2015. (U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford/U.S. Air Force)
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron takes off on a combat sortie from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Sept. 22, 2015. (U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford/U.S. Air Force)

Wide Variety of Weapons

The raids so far have employed a broad array of attack vehicles.

In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, a 40th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-52 Stratofortress flies home after striking multiple targets deep in Iraq April 7, 2003. (Richard Freeland/U.S. Air Force/Getty Images)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, a 40th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-52 Stratofortress flies home after striking multiple targets deep in Iraq April 7, 2003. (Richard Freeland/U.S. Air Force/Getty Images)

The United States contributed F-16s out of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and B-52s flying out of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The B-52s dropped 2,000-pound bombs. Afghan Air Force A-29’s also participated.

Air Force weapons loaders from the 28th Air Expeditionary Wing prepare a 2,000 pound bomb,r October 22, 2001. (Shane Cuomo/US Air Force/Getty Images)
Air Force weapons loaders from the 28th Air Expeditionary Wing prepare a 2,000-pound bomber on Oct. 22, 2001. (Shane Cuomo/US Air Force/Getty Images)

A U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth fighter played a role, as did unmanned drones. Marine Corps infantry also added some rocket fire, UPI reports.

Rising Opium Production Brings Explosive Response

A bomb dropped by a B-1 Bomber explodes on a Taliban position after an air strike was called in during an offensive on March 18, 2007 near Kajaki in the Afghan province of Helmand. (John Moore/Getty Images)
A bomb dropped by a B-1 Bomber explodes on a Taliban position after an air strike was called in during an offensive on March 18, 2007 near Kajaki in the Afghan province of Helmand. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter-Narcotics and UNODC reported that Afghanistan increased poppy cultivation from 452,000 acres in 2015 to 497,000 acres in 2016, increasing opium output from 3,300 tons to 4,800 tons.

The report notes that from a 10-percent increase in acreage, drug producers managed a 43-percent increase in opium production.

UNODC states that the opium trade accounts for 16 percent of Afghanistan’s economy.

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