KABUL, Afghanistan (November 20, 2017) - Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan have launched a series of ongoing attacks to hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams.
Over the past 24 hours, U.S. and Afghan forces conducted combined operations to strike seven Taliban drug labs and one command-and-control node in northern Helmand province. Three of those strikes were in Kajaki district, four in Musa Qalah district and one in Sangin district.
While last night's strikes targeted locations in Helmand where poppy is processed into illegal opiate drugs such as heroin, 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."
Opiates have become a global health, economic and security problem, and the Taliban are responsible for up to 85 percent of the world's opium production. It's an illegal economy worth up to $60 billion in street value. It's estimated that more than $200 million of this economy goes straight into the Taliban's bank accounts.
"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. Nicholson. "This operation involved thorough preparation to gain deep insights into Taliban narcotic processing labs and their locations. Never before have we had the kind of trust and cooperation that makes these types of strikes possible."
USFOR-A started developing targets immediately after the U.S. policy announcement this past summer that granted new authorities to the command. 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. This approach will not only weaken the Taliban's financing and networks, but puts USFOR-A and ANDSF in an increasingly dominant position for continuing combat operations throughout the winter.
"The battlefield dynamic has fundamentally shifted in favor of the ANDSF. These strikes are removing the Taliban's ability to fund their insurgent operations that kill innocent Afghan civilians and strengthens the ANDSF's ability to fight and win on the ground," said Lt. Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, Chief of General Staff, ANDSF. "Notably, the first aerial strike of this campaign was conducted by the Afghan Air Force, and this operation will move us closer to the day when the conclusive final blow against the Taliban is delivered by the ANDSF."
For the first time, U.S. Air Force F22A Raptors operated in Afghanistan, principally because of their ability to mitigate civilian casualties and inadvertent damage by employing small diameter bombs during U.S. airstrikes. Additionally, B52 bombers, Hellfire missiles fired from drones, and U.S. Marine Corps-operated High-Mobility Rocket Systems were all pivotal in the first night of strike successes.
"The Taliban failed to meet their military objectives in 2017. They suffered a significant amount of casualties from Afghan-led offensive operations," Gen. Nicholson said. "This reveals their evolution into a narco-insurgency.
"I want to recognize the bravery and sacrifices of Afghan security forces. Our prayers go out to the families of the martyrs, and we pray that those wounded will fully recover. Let me be clear," Gen. Nicholson said, "The U.S. is with you. The whole of the international community is with you - and we all believe that Afghanistan deserves security and lasting peace."
"It is time for the Taliban to lay down their arms and reconcile," said Lt. Gen. Yaftali. "If they do not come to the table seeking peace, the ANDSF will capture or kill them."