In Afghanistan, the US military wants to make the Taliban, which currently controls 40% of the country, an “irrelevance” within two years. Its target is for Afghan forces to be in charge of 80% of the territory, with the Taliban holding less than 10%.
Despite 16 years of fighting, the longest conflict in US history, the Taliban has been steadily increasing its influence, returning violence to levels unseen since the start of the conflict in 2001.
The US strategy is to hit the movement “where it hurts” by cutting off the economic lifeline of what the US Commander in Afghanistan describes as a “narco insurgency”.
Speaking by video link to a press conference, General John Nicholson said:
“Our message to the enemy is: you cannot win the war; it’s time to lay down your arms and enter into the reconciliation process. And if—, and if they don’t, they’re going to be confined to irrelevance as the Afghans expand their control of the country, or death.”
War on drugs?
As President Trump sends an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan, part of a surge announced after the summer, US air strikes have reached their highest level in the country since 2012.
The targets are Taliban opium factories, where, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, production is up 87 per cent on last year. It also reported that opium made from poppy seeds in Afghanistan, the world’s main source of heroin, stands at around 9,000 metric tonnes this year.
In his press conference, General Nicholson showed videos of targeted strikes on alleged factories, which he said left neighbouring buildings unharmed, an important caveat given the widespread blame of US bombs for civilian deaths.
The US hopes that, by cutting off a major revenue stream, the Taliban will be bombed to the negotiating table.