US conducts airstrikes on Afghanistan opium labs

The US conducted airstrikes targeting opium processing labs in Afghanistan Sunday, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Andrews tells CNN.

The airstrikes were part of a joint US-Afghan operation targeting drug facilities in Taliban controlled areas in Helmand Province.

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 40 aircraft after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft during a mission over Iraq on 10 June 2008. (U.S. Air Force file)

The airstrikes were carried out by US F-16s out of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and US B-52s flying out of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, told reporters at the Pentagon that a US F-22 Raptor and Afghan Air Force A-29s also participated in the strikes.

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani announced the operation via Twitter on Monday saying Afghan forces supported by international troops “launched operations in Helmand to abolish opium processing labs” and that eight labs were destroyed.

“We’re determined to tackle criminal economy and narcotics trafficking with full force,” Ghani said, calling drugs “the main source of financing (for) violence and terror.”

Analysts believe the Taliban obtains much of its funding through the opium trade, increasingly processing the drugs in areas under its control.

The new push against Taliban opium facilities comes in the wake of a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs which recently estimated that opium production in Afghanistan had increased by 87 percent in 2017.

The ability for the US military to target Taliban facilities, regardless of whether they pose a direct risk to US or allied forces, was recently granted to commanders as part of changes to US strategy made by President Donald Trump. Under the previous administration the US could only target the Taliban under certain specific circumstances.