I have to insist that we do have a way to cripple the Afghan drug trade, and we could even do it after troops are “gone” from there. Opium has no limiting shelf life, so we could buy up the opium directly from the farmers, cutting out the Taliban and the gangs. They have no product to move and can’t get money themselves (yes, some of the money might go to Taliban farmers, but the Taliban don’t usually operate that way—it’d be negligible). Once the bad guys are out of money and can’t compete for purchasing product we can lower the price, nearly at will until it’s more profitable for the farmers to grow more socially redeemable crops. Meanwhile we have a large supply of raw opium to sell off to legitimate pharma companies. Yes, it’s a matter of spending, but it’s got to cost less than continuing combat operations (which we don’t’ plan to continue anyway) to achieve the same goal.
The Taliban and drug gangs continue to suffer losses daily. But the drug operations in the south are pretty extensive and could take years to cripple (and force the gangs to move to another country). About ten percent of the Afghan population is involved in producing and transporting the opium and heroin (and other drugs like hashish (Afghanistan is the major producer in the world). The drug gangs are wealthy enough to absorb the damage in the short term, the Taliban are not. The Taliban are trying to maintain a presence throughout the country, but that is expensive. Keeping people on the payroll in the north is particularly difficult, because Pushtuns are a minority up there and the Taliban is much hated. You got to pay well to get northerners to represent the Taliban in such a hostile environment. Even the Pushtuns in the north tend to be anti-Taliban, if only because of the drugs. The growing number of addicts in Afghanistan is a daily reminder to all Afghans of the misery the Taliban (which helped the drug gangs get established in the 1990s) have inflicted.