Air cam­paign crip­ples Tal­iban drug oper­a­tion

De­struc­tion of 73 labs means loss of $42 mil­lion

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Jim Michaels

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.