Military and Police

Air Strikes Against Taliban Drug Labs Aim to Stop Money Flow

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) and the Afghan Air Force conducted air strikes against Taliban drug labs in Afghanistan yesterday.  The combined operations also included a strike on a Taliban command and control center, and were aimed at cutting off financing to the Pakistan- and Afghanistan-based terrorist organization, according to a spokesman for Operation Resolute Support (RS).

Gen. John Nicholson, commander, USFOR-A, said the strikes are just the beginning, and it represents the U.S. and global will to defeat terror and the criminals who support terrorists. “Last night, we conducted strikes into Northern Helmand to hit the Taliban where it hurts: their financing,” Gen. Nicholson said. “Increasingly, the Taliban have become a criminal organization. They fight, so they can keep profiting from their criminal activities: narco-trafficking, illegal mining, kidnapping and murder for hire.”

 … attacked previously un-targeted safe havens….

This operation represents a shift in tactics from the previous Administration’s campaign in Afghanistan.  No longer are kinetic operations restricted to certain areas, with other parts of the country off limits.  According to NATO’s RS press office, “These strikes are the first use of those authorities that allow U.S. forces to actively pursue terrorist elements and attack them offensively in collaboration with Afghan forces. This illustrates a shift in operations as USFOR-A attacks insurgent network economic lines in previously un-targeted safe havens in the South and Southwest.”

Seven Taliban Drug Labs Destroyed

The seven Taliban drug labs destroyed yesterday were all in the Sangin area just northwest of Kandahar.  This lies near an important route for smuggling opiates across the border into Iran, through the provinces of Herat, Farah, Nimroz and Helmand.  Opium brings a much higher price in Iran than in other neighboring countries, and these labs produced an important source of income for the Taliban’s terrorist and paramilitary operations.

American forces have frequently expressed frustration that as soon as they focus on securing an area in Afghanistan, the terrorists fade away to a safe haven and simply wait for them to leave.  They then return as the allied forces leave the area, and severely punish any civilians who cooperated with the Allies.  Meanwhile, they exercise significant authority over large swathes of the country, controlling the opium growing and processing industries to finance their operations.

Strikes Against Taliban Revenue Stream

Attacking the processing facilities deprives the Taliban of their most significant source of revenue: the international drug trade.  Attacking them in an area where they formerly felt secure sends an important message to them and to Afghan civilians who must decide whether to oppose or cooperate with them.  When tribal leaders see that the Taliban cannot protect their drug labs, and hence their revenue, it has an important psychological effect.  It increases their confidence in American power, and they are more willing to cooperate with NATO forces.

Attacking the processing facilities deprives the Taliban of their most significant source of revenue: the international drug trade.

Afghanistan produces over 85 per cent of the world’s opium, and the Taliban control nearly all of the commerce in it.  The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that nearly 5,000 tons of opium were produced in 2015.  That represents a street value of $65 to $70 billion per year, and provides over $200 million per year in revenue to the Taliban.  These strikes against Taliban drug labs are an integral part of the war plans of Operation Resolute Support.

Resolute Support is the successor organization to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), launched on 1 January 2015.  It is a NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces and institutions, and is supported by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2189, unanimously adopted on Dec. 12, 2014.  RS provides training, advice and assistance in eight key areas: multi-year budgeting; transparency, accountability and oversight; civilian oversight of the Afghan Security Institutions; force generation; force sustainment; strategy and policy planning, resourcing and execution; intelligence; and strategic communications.

Ending Taliban control over Afghan opium production, processing facilities, and smuggling routes will go a long way toward ending their domination of Afghanistan.  It will enable U.S. and allied forces to stop the deadly game of Whack-A-Mole that has characterized military actions against the Taliban for many years.  It also will help Administration efforts to stem the toxic flow of opiates that have destroyed so many lives, in a massive current from Kandahar to the cities of America.  Kudos to Resolute Support for carrying out these strikes.

Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois (@bmarcois) is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration. Additionally, Marcois served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department. He is a director at the Richard Richards Foundation.

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