Abruptly going from "mission-creep" to "balls-deep," the US Military and Afghan forces just carried out a series of offensive airstrikes on Taliban opium production facilities in Kandahar province beginning on Monday.
The F-22 Raptor carried out its very first strikes ever in Afghanistan and was chosen because of its ability to carry 250-lb small-diameter bombs while simultaneously using its advanced sensors to monitor airspace for the safety of the other aircraft involved in the operation.
In addition to the F-22, the classic B-52 bomber was used, as well as USMC HIMARS rockets employing precision guided munitions. Besides the US strikes, at least two Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft struck targets as well.
The strikes are an overt part of President Trump's new plan to win the war in Afghanistan. The new legal authority for offensive operations was granted back in August, but didn't take place until now for the sake of gathering solid intelligence and quite possibly because they were waiting until the opium harvest was complete, and the illicit product was consolidated in the production facilities.
Since the major troop withdraw in 2014, US forces were sidelined from conducting offensive operations and airstrikes, and were only aloud to attack the Taliban in defensive situations to protect themselves and Afghan forces. According to reports, the US is set to triple the amount of bombs dropped in Afghanistan this year compared to last year.
The Taliban has an estimated 500 opium production facilities in the country, so these initial strikes are not expected to hamper the Taliban's revenue greatly, but at the rate of the bombs being dropped, it won't be long before they start feeling it.
Around the turn of the century, the Taliban had banned nearly wiped out opium farming and production in Afghanistan. They viewed the substance as Haram, and not Muslim like. However, after the US invasion, they realized the great revenue that could be generated from it.
During Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), US forces abstained from interfering with opium farming unless it could be directly tied to the Taliban. While trying to win hearts and minds, it would be counterintuitive to destroy the local farmers' livelihoods. Many attempts were made to get the farmers to grow alternate crops, but there is nothing that could be grown that would compare to the profit made from opium. In addition to that, the ever-corrupt Afghan politicians were also getting their cut of the drug trade. Now that the Taliban shadow government has a stake in almost all of Afghanistan's drug trade, the US has opened season on opium production facilities.