U.S Department of Defense
11/20/2017 04:58 PM CST
Presenter: General John W. Nicholson Jr., commander, Resolute Support and U.S. Forces Afghanistan Nov. 20, 2017
NOTE: This translation includes only the opening remarks by General Nicholson from a briefing that included a Q&A session. For expedience, only the opening section has been translated. The videos that the General references are available on DVIDS.
GENERAL JOHN W. NICHOLSON: …Thanks, everyone, for joining me today. I also want to reference a statement made by President Ghani this morning regarding our strikes yesterday. And I’d also like to thank him, as well as General Yaftali, the Chief of General Staff of the Afghan army, who joined me earlier for a joint press conference here in Kabul. So I refer you all to those, as well.
And I’m currently scheduled to be back with you next week, as well, to talk about the 2017 season, and looking ahead to 2018. I recognize we may get into some of that today, as well. But primarily, I’m going to talk about the strikes we’ve done in the last 24 hours.
So the south — the new South Asia strategy’s not quite 90 days old. And under this strategy, I received new authorities — and this is for U.S. Forces Afghanistan — again, thanks, Mike, for highlighting that — and these new authorities allowed us to attack the enemy across the breadth and the depth of the battle space, and also functionally, to attack their financial networks, their revenue streams.
Previously, the authorities required us to be operating in proximity to Afghan forces, so we could strike when they were in the defense, we could strike when they were — (inaudible). But our targets that went after revenue streams, support infrastructure, training bases, infiltration lanes — these targets were much harder to get to, and really were not a part of the authority.
So the new authorities have been significant in that, in enabling us to get after the enemy in new ways. And so that’s what I’m going to focus on in my statement, then, these strikes. They were led by the Afghan Security Forces yesterday, with air strikes against drug labs in Helmand.
But the primary focus of this particular operation’s been in Northern Helmand, the so-called emirate of the Taliban, where they have enjoyed relative freedom of action for the last several years and where much of their drug enterprise is located.
So the Afghan air force led these strikes yesterday with A-29 attacks against drug labs. And then, last night, they were supported by the U.S. Air Force, with B-52s and other strike aircraft, to include the F-22 Raptor.
This — these also complemented Afghan Special Forces strikes. So a raid went in yesterday against a Taliban prison in Now Zad. And then these also complemented conventional offensive operations being conducted by the 215th Corps in Central Helmand.
So there’s a just — this is much more than just a series of air strikes in Northern Helmand. It’s part of a larger, comprehensive campaign plan, and it’s part of our sustainment of offensive operations through the winter against the enemy’s financial engine in Helmand.
This — in order to do these strikes — they required hundreds of hours of preparation, our intelligence enterprise, ISR, as well as the actual sorties flown last night and in the coming days, because this will continue.
I want to — I want to mention the — before getting into more detail on the strikes — over the last several years — the last three years, in particular, since the end of ISAF, the Afghan Security Forces have really been carrying the war to the enemy — to the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and ISIS.
It’s been a tough fight. In the last year, we’ve seen offensive operations, kind of unprecedented over the last few years, by the Afghan security forces. At one point, we had all six corps conducting offensive operations simultaneously around the country. And this I would contrast with last year — in 2017, when in October, we saw attacks on cities — four cities simultaneously, at the same time, so big change from the past.
The special forces, the special police, the air force have all continued to grow in capability, and they’re — and they’re all making great appearances on the battlefield. The commandos in particular have never lost a battle against the Taliban, and we are doubling the size of the commandos. So that is going to be a significant addition to the offensive arsenal of the Afghan security forces.
This has not been without cost. I want to take a moment to recognize and show our respect for the bravery and the sacrifice of Afghan security forces and the hard work of their government. They are fighting corruption, they’re fighting external influence and terrorism, not just for the benefit of their own country and the region, but indeed, the entire world.
And so our message to the Afghans is very straightforward: We are with you, and we will stay with you. And their fight on terror is the most important fight in the world, and it’s — and it’s a fight on behalf of us, as well as them. It’s a fight that makes our homeland secure and the homelands of our coalition secure, as well as the Afghans’.
And the Afghans really deserve security and a lasting peace. And that stability that would come with that would help significantly to reduce the threat of terrorism from the region, and migrancy, as well.
So let me shift back again to our operations over the last 24 hours. These are a demonstration of our — of our new authorities. They’re also a demonstration of our will to take the fight to the enemy in all of its dimensions. And specifically, in striking northern Helmand and the drug enterprises there, we’re hitting the Taliban where it hurts, which is their finances.
Now, the — in 2017, again, I’ll elaborate more today or next week — the Taliban failed to meet any of their military objectives. They failed to take any cities, as they’ve attempted for the last two years. They suffered a significant amount of casualties from the Afghan-led offensive operations. And we are — we are seeing signs of friction and disagreement within the Taliban leadership ranks.
They know they cannot win — they can’t win in the face of this growing capability. In September, we saw them, in the face of these tactical setbacks, take a knee and change their tactics. And so they’re — they decided to stop attacking cities, stop attack — trying to seize and hold terrain, and instead shift to suicide attacks and attempts to inflict casualties to prove their relevance.
And so this, actually, is a step back in terms of enemy tactics to a guerrilla warfare type of strategy, from one where they attempt to seize and hold terrain.
Now, the Taliban are interested, though, in making money, and to some extent it’s fair to say that this movement has evolved into a narco-insurgency, so that the profits from narcotics now exceed their operating expenses, and we find that the leadership of the Taliban fight over the money, and it’s often divided along tribal lines.
This — they make their money in a couple of ways. One is the narcotics trafficking; second, illegal mining; kidnapping for hire; murder; et cetera. So, largely, they’ve evolved into a criminal organization and truly fit the definition of a narco-insurgency.
Our message to the enemy is that you cannot win the war. It’s time to lay down your arms and enter into a reconciliation process. And if they — if they don’t, they’re going to be confined to irrelevance, as the Afghans expand their control of the country, or death. And so these are the choices they face.
So let me take a moment to describe what the ANDSF and U.S. forces struck yesterday. As we all know, heroin’s become a global problem — health, economic, security concerns. And so, just like terror, heroin and opiates have become a global issue. The — these criminals living in Afghanistan, who are closely linked to the Taliban and part of the Taliban, are responsible for up to 85 percent of the world’s opium.
It’s an illegal economy that, in terms of street value, is something close to $60 billion, as estimated by our law enforcement agencies. We currently estimate, I’m told by our law enforcement professionals, that about 4 percent of the heroin in the U.S. is from Afghanistan, but that they expect that that number might grow.
We also see that it — that Afghan heroin has made inroads in most of the other areas around the world, to include as close as Canada, Europe, Russia, Iran, and of course all across the Balkans, et cetera.
So at least $200 million of this opium industry goes in — into — into the Taliban’s bank accounts, and this fuels — really pays for the insurgency. So, increasingly, a fight to retain control of the areas of poppy production — and we see that the vast majority of the poppy grown in Afghanistan is grown in Taliban-controlled or contested areas.
The — I need to make the point here that we are not going after the farmers who are growing the poppy. They are largely compelled to grow the poppy. And this is kind of a tragic part of the story. When the farmer can’t pay their debts, they end up — the Taliban end up taking their sons or daughters as collateral, or they — or they simply live in debt, a form a slavery, to the Taliban. And when they live in a Taliban-controlled area, they essentially are required to grow opium as a — as a price for being there.
So these strikes are focused on — on the places where the poppy’s processed further, eventually, into heroin — into opium, morphine, and then heroin. So we attack the drug traffic organizations that operate in this area. There’s about 20 drug trafficking — major drug trafficking organizations in the region — the APAC region, 13 in Afghanistan, and seven of these have operations in Helmand. And this is why the strikes started there.
So the — I have to say also that the level of trust and cooperation that exists between the United States and Afghanistan has never been better. And it’s because of this that we’re able to conduct these kind of joint operations, and we’re able to do these operations with the full support and, indeed, leadership of the Afghan government.
So President Ghani’s — the palace issued a statement earlier today about these strikes. They were fully aware of these strikes, and consulted. And indeed, it was a joint operation on the ground, within their capabilities.
So all of this adds up to a form of pressure on the enemy. We will continue to apply military pressure on the battlefield. That pressure’s going to grow in the coming years, as the offensive capability of the Afghans grow through their growth in Special Forces, the growth in the air force. And again, I’ll talk a little bit more about that all next week.
We’re also seeing diplomatic and economic pressure applied by the international community, especially on the external enablers of the insurgency. And then soon, the elections in Afghanistan, if done credibly — and this is extremely important, of course — this will apply social pressure on the enemy.
And so these forms of pressure, military, diplomatic, economic, social, are the — are the things that will mean that the Taliban cannot win. These forms of pressure is what will compel them to join the reconciliation process.
So now what I’d like to do is take a moment and step you through a few videos that cover some of the strikes last night. So I’ll give you a short description of this first video, and then ask Mike to play it.
So, in the first one, you’re going to see a strike by a U.S. B-52. This is on a Taliban narcotics production facility in Northern Helmand. We used six 500-pound, low-collateral-damage, precision-guided munitions. Why did we use these? In order to keep the collateral damage to an absolute minimum, and we did.
So this strike — these kinds of strikes are a result of numerous hours of surveillance, not only of the region to pinpoint the specific objectives, but the objective itself to ensure that we come up with the best targeting solution to minimize the collateral damage.
And so, Mike, if you could please roll the first video.
STAFF: The first video is complete.
GEN. NICHOLSON: Okay. Thanks, Mike.
Okay, the second video is a strike that’s being carried out by an F-22 Raptor, which, as you know, is one of our most advanced fighter aircraft. This aircraft was used because of its ability to deliver precision munitions, in this case a 250-pound bomb, small-diameter, that causes the minimum amount of collateral damage.
And so this target was also a Taliban narcotics production facility in Musa Qala. So I want to draw your attention — as you look at this strike, you’re going to see that inside this compound are multiple structures, and we destroy only two of them, while leaving the third standing, which we did to avoid collateral damage.
And so, Mike, if you could please play that video.
STAFF: Video is complete, sir.
GEN. NICHOLSON: There’s another B-52 strike on another Taliban narcotics production facility. Now, this particular facility was the largest one we struck last night, with over 50 barrels of opium cooking at the time of the strike. And, of course, this — the street value of this is in the millions of dollars. So this was a B-52 strike, several 2,000-pound bombs, and it completely obliterated the facility.