The U.S. Air Force deployed a number of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs to Afghanistan to aid in the effort targeting Taliban drug factories, according to a U.S. Air Forces Central Command press release.
“As we’ve applied increased pressure on the Taliban and their revenue sources with precision airpower, we’ve gained considerable momentum in our effort to force them to reconcile or face defeat,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “As U.S. advisors move closer to the front lines in support of our Afghan partners, this additional airpower will give them the decisive advantage necessary to advance with confidence.”
— Lara Seligman (@laraseligman) January 23, 2018
The A-10s, from the 303d Fighter Squadron, deployed to Kandahar Air Field on Jan. 19 and flew their first mission within 24 hours.
The deployment comes as part of increased pressure against the Taliban in Afghanistan while the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq lessens. The A-10s are needed for precision strikes and close air support as part of the new South Asia strategy.
Air Force Central Command also sent MQ-9 Reaper drones and HH-60G helicopters to Afghanistan.
The aircraft are part of a campaign targeting the Taliban narcotics trade, and dozens of drug facilities have already been destroyed.
“Since the beginning of this campaign, we have eliminated 25 narcotics processing labs from the Taliban inventory,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch told Pentagon reporters in December. “This equates to almost $80 million of drug money eliminated from the kingpins’ pockets, while denying over $16 million of direct revenue to their Taliban partners.”
Since then, several other drug facilities have been destroyed and $20 million in revenue has been denied to the Taliban.
Afghanistan is the largest producer of poppies and supplies roughly 80 percent of the world’s opium. The new U.S. strategy allows the U.S. to target those facilities.
“The Taliban still has not felt the full brunt of American and Afghan air power,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, Commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force – Afghanistan and NATO Air Command – Afghanistan. “With the arrival of new air assets and the growing capabilities of Afghan pilots, the Taliban will have a constant eye towards the sky as an integrated unified fight is aimed directly to them.”
Thousands of additional U.S. troops have been sent to Afghanistan since last year to aid in the effort against the Taliban.