US B-52 bomber unleashes record-setting payload

Washington CNN  — 

A US Air Force B-52 bomber launched a record-setting series of strikes this week in northern Afghanistan – dropping 24 precision-guided munitions on Taliban fighting positions during 96 hours of air operations “to destroy insurgent revenue sources, training facilities, and support networks,” according to US Forces Afghanistan.

The 24 precision-guided munitions dropped by the B-52 Stratofortress are the most ever dropped by one of the Air Force’s oldest active aircraft, the service said in a press release.

Weighing 185,000 pounds, the B-52 first entered service in the 1950s during the height of the Cold War – originally designed to serve as long-range, high-altitude intercontinental nuclear bombers that could strike deep into the Soviet Union.

The newest B-52 entered service in 1962, and the 159-foot plane became a Cold War icon.

The planes have been modified heavily since the end of the Cold War and have been upgraded with precision-guided missiles, electronics and high-tech sensors. Each aircraft can carry up to 70,000 pounds of bombs, mines and missiles, according to the Air Force’s official fact sheet.

The strikes come after the Taliban launched a series of attacks in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul last week, killing over 100 people. In one of those incidents, an ambulance packed with explosives detonated in a crowded street outside a hospital. More than 200 people were left injured, including 30 police officers.

In addition to Taliban fighting positions, the strikes targeted training facilities in Badakhshan province and “stolen Afghan National Army vehicles that were in the process of being converted to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices,” according to US Forces Afghanistan.

“The Taliban have nowhere to hide,” said Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US Forces Afghanistan. “There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group bent on bringing harm and destruction to this country.”

US forces continue to carry out strikes on Taliban support networks in Helmand province and target sources of revenue such as illegal narcotics, the service said, adding that strikes and raids in the region have destroyed more than $30 million of Taliban revenue since the campaign began in November, 2017.

Last April, the US military dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb on what it said were ISIS positions in Afghanistan, describing it as a tactical move. Afghan officials said the strike in Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border killed 36 ISIS fighters.

According to new US military data released to CNN last week, the Taliban strengthened its hold over Afghanistan in the second half of last year.

In October 2017, 14% of Afghan districts were under the control or influence of the Taliban or other insurgents, an increase of one percentage point on the previous data from August.

The official figures offer a rare and tangible measure by which to assess the ongoing war – a war that President Donald Trump has pledged to win.

Sixteen years after the US invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Afghan and NATO forces in the country remain on a war footing.

The repeated attacks by Taliban forces on civilian targets and growing atmosphere of insecurity in the capital Kabul highlights the many problems faced by the United States military presence in Afghanistan, reinforced with thousands of new troops by the Trump administration.

The US-led NATO coalition and Afghan troops are still battling the Taliban and al Qaeda, but are now also fighting ISIS, where a regional affiliate of the terrorist group known as ISIS-K has established a foothold in recent years.