While many greeted the strategy presented by President Trump in August with what it is best described as a lukewarm embrace, at least one US general officer, tasked with breaking the war’s 16-year stalemate, believes that things are about to change for the better.
U.S. commanders on the ground are now free to target Taliban networks and revenue sources, as well as support local Afghan forces on the ground in ways that weren’t available to them prior.
“It’s only just begun,” said Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch in a briefing piped into the Pentagon from Kabul. “This will be a very long winter for the Taliban.”
Bunch described the new strategy as “taking the gloves off,” and said it has dramatically shifted the momentum in favor of Afghan forces in the past few months.
“These are new efforts that have never been tried before in Afghanistan,” Bunch said. “These are new, the war has changed.”
“We are able to go after their [Taliban] weapons cache sites, their revenue generation, their C2 [command and control] nodes, all the areas where they thought they were safe and they are no longer so,” Bunch said. “It has definitely been a game-changer, and the Taliban is definitely feeling it.”
The cornerstone of the new strategy is what Bunch called a “dedicated air interdiction campaign” that is designed to deny the Taliban the huge profits it has reaped for years from Afghanistan’s illicit opium trade.
By going after the Taliban’s money-making opium trade, the US hopes to financially strap them and prevent them from being able to finance their war-making ability. The US and Afghan air strikes along with local Special Operations Forces, raided and destroyed 25 narcotics processing sites destroying $80 million dollars of drugs that directly finance Taliban operations. This has just been in the past three weeks.
This along with the change in embedding US Special Operations Forces advisors at the lowest level of Afghan troops has resulted in much better intelligence and support and the ability to coordinate combat firepower where it is needed, much like US-led coalition forces in Syria.
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