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Nov 20, 10:57 AM EST

US hits Taliban drug labs in Afghanistan under new strategy


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US hits Taliban drug labs in Afghanistan under new strategy

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- American aircraft have targeted drug producing facilities in Afghanistan for the first time under a new strategy aimed at cutting off Taliban funding, the top U.S. general in the country said Monday.

Gen. John Nicholson said the raids were carried out Sunday in the southern Helmand province, as part of the strategy unveiled by President Donald Trump in August. Afghan and American aircraft - including B-52 bombers dropping 2,000-pound bombs and F-22 attack planes - took part in the raids.

Nicholson said the insurgents generate an estimated $200 million a year from poppy cultivation and opium production.

In a news conference with the Afghan army chief of staff, Nicholson said the Taliban were becoming a criminal organization. "They fight so that they can keep profiting from narcotics trade and other criminal activities," he said. He added that there are 13 major drug trafficking organizations in Afghanistan, of which seven are in Helmand.

Afghanistan's opium production has nearly doubled this year compared to 2016, while areas that are under poppy cultivation rose by 63 percent, according to a joint survey released last week by the United Nations and the Afghan government.

Production stands at a record level of 9,000 metric tons (9,921 U.S. tons) so far in 2017, with some 328,000 hectares (810,488 acres) under cultivation, according to the survey, carried out by the Counter-Narcotics Ministry and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

Afghanistan is the world's top cultivator of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are produced.

The Taliban prohibited poppy cultivation when they governed the country in the late 1990s, but have since come to rely on it as they wage an increasingly potent insurgency against the government and its foreign backers.

The Taliban have seized several districts across the country and have carried out a series of major attacks, mainly targeting Afghan security forces, since U.S. and NATO forces officially shifted to a support and counterterrorism role at the end of 2014.

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