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Airstrikes Destroy Insurgent Drug Labs in Afghanistan

FILE: U.S. troops take part in an exercise in Helmand province in July.
FILE: U.S. troops take part in an exercise in Helmand province in July.

U.S. and Afghan airstrikes have destroyed nine Taliban drug factories and labs, killing 44 suspected traffickers in a border area of southern Helmand province.

The combined offensive is aimed at targeting the revenue streams of terrorists, according to officials.

Regional military corps commander, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, told VOA that bombings of drug-producing centers started late on November 21 and continued into the morning.

He said the airstrikes focused on a narcotics market run by the Taliban in Bahramcha, a remote, divided village on the border with Pakistan, which serves as a main center for shipping drugs from Afghanistan. The general described Bahramcha as the biggest narcotics market in Asia.

He confirmed an unspecified number of Taliban militants and drug traffickers were killed but did not share any exact figures. Sources, however, told VOA the death toll stood at 44.

Bahramcha is one of the villages on the largely porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The region is notorious for facilitating the movement of local and foreign militants in both directions.

Taliban insurgents and their leaders also use the area to get medical aid in alleged sanctuaries on Pakistani soil, say Afghan officials.

U.S. Army General John Nicholson told reporters earlier this week the counternarcotics campaign began on November 19 when strikes destroyed seven Taliban drug labs in another part of Helmand, an opium-poppy producing region and Afghanistan's largest province.

Villagers in Pakistan could also see destroyed mud houses and a vehicle on the Afghan side of the border where the overnight airstrikes took place.

Spokespeople for the Afghan Taliban, however, in statements sent to media on November 22, rejected as propaganda accusations the insurgent group is running drug producing labs and factories in Helmand or elsewhere in Afghanistan.

They said the air raids hit civilian homes and those killed were civilians with no link to the Taliban.

On November 20 General Nicholson said that the U.S. military has for the first time engaged F-22 fighter jets in the newly launched war on Afghan drugs. It is also the first time, he said, the U.S. military is using new authority, granted by U.S. President Donald Trump in August, to curb terrorists and their revenue streams in Afghanistan.

The United States has spent $8.6 billion on narcotics eradication in Afghanistan since 2002, but critics say there was record-breaking poppy production in 2017.

The United Nations announced last week that narcotics production almost doubled this year in Afghanistan to around 9,000 tons, with a 63 percent increase in cultivation areas compared with 2016.

The Taliban has expanded its control or influence to more than 40 percent of Afghan territory since international combat forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014.

The U.S. military estimates income generated from illicit drugs is providing 60 percent of the Taliban's funding.

-- Voice of America