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Afghan forces prepare to destroy lab materials and narcotics after they seized about $19 million worth of drugs, equipment, vehicles, weapons and communication gear in Nad Ali district, Helmand province, in 2017. A California man who claimed to have ties to the Taliban was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on Wednesday on charges related to trafficking Taliban-linked drugs to the United States.

Afghan forces prepare to destroy lab materials and narcotics after they seized about $19 million worth of drugs, equipment, vehicles, weapons and communication gear in Nad Ali district, Helmand province, in 2017. A California man who claimed to have ties to the Taliban was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on Wednesday on charges related to trafficking Taliban-linked drugs to the United States. (Courtesy photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan — A California man who claimed to have Taliban ties was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on Wednesday on charges related to trafficking Taliban-linked drugs to the United States.

The sentence was handed down amid a campaign by U.S. and Afghan forces to target drug labs used by the Taliban to fund their insurgency.

Shamsuddin Dost, 23, was arrested in 2016 after he told an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent that he would help smuggle 220 pounds of heroin into the U.S. from Afghanistan, the Mercury News reported.

Dost’s co-defendant, Jawed Ahmadi, was sentenced in March to 70 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute the drug. Ahmadi was arrested the day he arrived in San Francisco by plane from Kabul, according to the Mercury News, which was also the same day Dost was detained.

Law enforcement agents said they seized about 13 pounds of pure heroin during their investigation, which could have been diluted and sold for over $8 million.

In wiretapped calls, Dost said he had ties to the Taliban, but later testified that he hadn’t visited Afghanistan since he was a child, the Mercury News said.

His 10-year sentence was the minimum sentence allowed. It was issued the same day that a top official with U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said recent U.S. and Afghan air operations targeting the Taliban’s drug labs had cost the insurgent group tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

“The airstrikes and other operations have … hit them where it hurts: in the wallet,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance R. Bunch, vice commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force, told Pentagon reporters from Kabul on Wednesday. “By all estimates, these air operations have taken over $45 million in revenue away from the Taliban.”

The Taliban generated a sizable portion of its revenue from narcotics, according to Pentagon reports. The Trump administration has stepped up efforts to target the group’s revenue streams and has deployed B-52 and F-22 aircraft to assist Afghan A-29s in destroying Taliban drug facilities.

A recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, however, questioned the costs inflicted on the Taliban by the strikes and their overall effectiveness.

“Operating these aircraft costs anywhere from $9,798 per hour for an F/A-18 to $35,294 per hour for an F-22,” SIGAR said. “Destroyed labs, on the other hand, are quickly and easily replaced with minimal cost.”

Afghanistan remains the world’s top producer of illicit opium, used to make heroin, despite numerous U.S.-led initiatives costing more than $8 billion to combat drugs since the war began in 2001.

However, in recent years, an estimated 1 percent or less of heroin seized in the United Sates originates from Afghanistan, according to SIGAR.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com Twitter: @pwwellman

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.

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