In a first, the US military used F-22 Raptors to blow up Taliban narcotics production factories in Afghanistan's Helmand Province on Sunday, 19 November. US and Afghan forces reportedly bombed 10 Taliban opium factories as part of a joint military operation between the two countries called "Operation Jagged Knife".
According to reports, the operation marked the first time that F-22 Raptors were used to conduct airstrikes in Afghanistan. The US military reportedly chose F-22s for the mission as it involved precision-bombing of some of the narcotics factories in areas with civilian populations.
The video of the airstrike – surprisingly quite clear for a military engagement video – initially shows a Taliban compound, which is the intended target. An F-22 raptor flying over the compound (not pictured in the video) then drops two bombs that demolish two different buildings, leaving a third structure untouched – showcasing the fighter jet's precision-bombing abilities.
The bombings of the 10 Taliban opium factories reportedly occurred on the very first day of Operation Jagged Knife. The operation is part of the US military's efforts to cripple the Taliban's funding, Defence News reported. According to Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, Afghanistan contains around 400 to 500 such factories, which are used by the terrorist group to generate funds.
Until recently, the US military was not authorised to conduct such airstrikes, as the rules of engagement required air power to only be used when defending Afghan troops or in close combat situations. However, in August, the Trump administration approved the expansion of military powers in Afghanistan, which in turn allowed the US military to attack Taliban and other extremist groups in the country, Defence News reported.
US Forces Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson said that previously "these targets were much harder to get to and really were not part of the [old] authorities. These new authorities allow us to attack the enemy... to attack their financial networks, their revenue streams."
According to Nicholson, along with the use of F-22 Raptors, the operation also involved US B-52s and Afghan A-29s. Nicholson said that the F-22s were selected for the operation at the last minute. The fighter jets were the only available aircraft with the capability of carrying small-diameter precision bombs, which were required as the targets were in civilian-populated areas.
According to Defence News, the US Air Forces Central Command confirmed that the F-22s were used "primarily to mitigate collateral damage and civilian casualties by employing small-diameter bombs carried by the aircraft".
Pickart said that Operation Jagged Knife also involved the US Marines providing support with High-Mobility Rocket Systems (HIMARS), while the US Army provided surveillance support.