Kabul, May 28 (IANS) A Taliban commander in the Afghanistan’s Helmand province has ordered all opium labs to be moved out of the urban areas the group controls as US airstrikes targeting the facilities are killing many civilians, a media report said on Monday.
In a walkie-talkie conversation with his secretary shared on a Taliban WhatsApp group, the terror group’s shadow governor of Helmand Mullah Manan, said “due to one factory hundreds of the public are at risk from bombings and missiles” and called for facilities to shift to “mountains and valley sides” instead, the Guardian report said.
In the message, Mullah Manan said: “Drones are roaming in the air and they have made men, women and children scared because of bombing. We must strictly explain to people that if they do not stop drugs factories in public houses they will go to jail.”
Any Taliban who permitted such facilities would also be punished, he added.
The recording has been verified by experts on the Taliban.
The Taliban control most of the opium trade in Afghanistan, the world’s major source of the drug, where production rose a record 87 per cent last year, according to UN figures.
After years in which the US airforce avoided hitting opium labs for fear of alienating local populations, it has targeted them for the last six months as part of a campaign to choke off the estimated $200 million in yearly revenue they earn for the Taliban, the Guardian reported.
Bombing raids nearly tripled in the first three months of this year, compared with 2017.
In the strikes on drug labs since November 2017, the US claims not to have killed any civilians.
“To date, US Forces Afghanistan has not found a credible allegation of civilian casualty,” a spokesperson for the US military told the Guardian.