US hits ‘Taliban where it hurts’ by striking drug labs
US hits ‘Taliban where it hurts’ by striking drug labs
Ten drug labs were destroyed in a series of aerial bombardments in the poppy-rich southern province of Helmand — a Taliban stronghold — on Sunday night, said General John Nicholson, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The joint operation came days after a UN report showed opium production in Afghanistan — a key source of funding for the Taliban’s 16-year insurgency — soared 87 percent this year as the area under poppy cultivation hit a record high.
Nicholson said targeting the drug labs would “hit the Taliban where it hurts” and warned of more strikes to follow.
“The strikes that were prosecuted last night will continue,” Nicholson told a news conference in Kabul, stressing that poppy farmers would not be targeted.
“We hit the labs where they turned poppy into heroin. We hit their storage facilities where they kept their final products, where they stockpiled their money and their command and control.”
Afghan A-29 Super Tucano attack planes destroyed two labs and US aircraft including B-52s and F-22s took out another eight, the general later told reporters in a call to the Pentagon.
He noted that 400 or 500 drug labs active are across the country.
“This is going to be steady pressure that’s going to stay up and we are not going to let up,” he said.
The Taliban profits from the illegal drug trade by taxing poppy farmers and traffickers across the war-torn country, pocketing an estimated $200 million a year, official data shows.
It was the first time the F-22 stealth fighter had conducted an air strike in Afghanistan, and Nicholson noted that the US Air Force now has more airpower at its disposal as operations against the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria taper down.
US Forces began identifying drug labs to hit after President Donald Trump’s strategy announcement in August made it easier for American air power to proactively target the Taliban and its sources of revenue and infrastructure.
Nicholson said the operation was the first “significant” time he had used the new authorities.
The Taliban issued a statement denying the existence of the drug-making facilities.
The US-Afghan operation comes as around 3,000 additional American troops promised by Trump are deployed to help train and assist beleaguered Afghan security forces who have been struggling to beat back Taliban and Islamic State insurgents.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime warned last week that the “significant levels” of opium cultivation and trafficking in Afghanistan would fuel the insurgency and boost funding for militants.
The area under poppy cultivation has expanded by 63 percent to a record 328,000 hectares (810,500 acres) this year — topping the previous record of 224,000 hectares in 2014 — with the number of poppy-growing provinces jumping to 24.
Only 10 Afghan provinces are now considered poppy free.
Nicholson said the Taliban had evolved into a “narco insurgency” fighting to protect earnings from drug trafficking, illegal mining, kidnapping and murder for hire.
“The fighting that they’re doing is to control the means of production, to control the poppy fields, to force farmers into growing poppy and then be able to process this opium into heroin in the relative safety of these areas,” he said.
US to withdraw from UN rights council: UN officials
- Washington accuses UN Human Rights Council of bias against Israel.
- UN rights chief: "The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable".
UNITED NATIONS: The United States will announce on Tuesday that it is withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council, which it accuses of bias against Israel, UN officials said.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley will make the announcement at a press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington at 5:00 p.m. (2100 GMT).
Haley has repeatedly threatened to quit the Geneva-based body, established in 2006 to promote and protect human rights worldwide.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to comment ahead of the announcement, saying: “We will wait to hear the details of that decision before commenting fully.”
“What is clear, is that the secretary-general is a strong believer in the human rights architecture of the UN and the active participation of all member states in that architecture.”
UN officials privately confirmed they were expecting the US decision to quit the rights body.
The withdrawal followed strong UN criticism of Trump’s policy to separate migrant children from their families at the US-Mexico border.
UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Monday “the thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”
Human Rights Watch criticized the move, warning that Washington’s absence at the top UN body would put the onus on other governments to address the world’s most serious rights problems.
“The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else,” said HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth.
“The UN Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.”
US criticism stems from the fact that Israel is the only country that has a dedicated agenda item, known as Item 7, at the rights council, meaning its treatment of the Palestinians comes under scrutiny at each of the body’s three annual sessions.
The United Stated refused to join the body when it was created in 2006, when George W. Bush was in the White House and his ambassador to the UN was John Bolton, Trump’s current hawkish and UN-skeptic national security adviser.
It was only after Barack Obama came to power that Washington joined the council in 2009.
Since Trump took office, the United States has quit the UN cultural agency UNESCO, cut UN funding and announced plans to quit the UN-backed Paris climate agreement.