Air campaign cripples Taliban drug operation
Destruction of 73 labs means loss of $42 million
WASHINGTON — A new coalition air campaign aimed at crippling Taliban funding has destroyed 73 drug labs and cost the organization $42 million in lost revenue during the first six months of the operation, according to coalition statistics.
The air campaign was launched in November after President Trump expanded the U.S. military’s authority to target insurgents in Afghanistan and represents the most robust effort yet to strike at the country’s $1.6 billion drug trade.
“It’s the first time we’ve used air power to … strike and put pressure on Taliban revenue in the 17 years of the war,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, who heads the air operation targeting insurgent revenues.
Officials say it is still too early to measure the impact of the strikes on the Taliban’s operations. The Taliban generally reduces its combat operations during the winter months when many areas remain impassable. A new fighting season is just getting underway.
The air campaign won’t eliminate the massive drug trade in Afghanistan but is designed to have an impact on Taliban operations as they gear up for another fighting season, said David Sedney, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former top Pentagon official.
“You can have an immediate tactical impact,” Sedney said.
More than half the Taliban’s annual budget of an estimated $300 million to $500 million comes from drug sales, according to coalition statistics. Afghanistan accounts for two thirds of the global poppy crop, according to the United Nations.
The air campaign is not the first time the coalition and Afghanistan’s government have targeted the drug trade. Afghanistan’s government has launched eradication programs and the U.S. military has supported efforts to try and convince poppy farmers to switch to legal crops.
Those efforts weren’t always sustained, Sedney said.
But the air campaign allows the U.S.-led coalition to act quickly on intelligence, striking labs in remote reaches of the country.
Afghan security personnel destroy an illegal poppy crop last week in the eastern province of Nangarhar. NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES