(CNSNews.com) - The Taliban is transitioning from an ideologically-inspired group to a narco-terror group, Sen. Joni Earnst (R-Iowa) told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
She asked Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan to cut off the Taliban's drug-funding streams.
"We are using the authorities that have been passed to us recently to make sure that we can go after...these funding streams that are fueling the Taliban right now. And they are proving effective," Votel responded.
"This is a lesson learned from Iraq and Syria, where we got serious about going after the funding streams that supported ISIS. We started to see an immediate impact, so that is exactly the intention here.
"And I do agree with you, they are well resourced by this narco-trafficking that takes place, and so our efforts are not only targeting their production-storage locations, but also working with regional partners to help limit the flow of that product out of the region, again, trying to impede their ability to benefit from that."
Votel agreed that the Taliban "absolutely" is a narco-terror group, with mafia-like characterisists: "This is not a popular insurgency," he said. "I think that's an important thing for people to understand, that 90 percent of the people in Afghanistan do not want the Taliban to be in charge of their country. It's not a popular insurgency."
Votel said the "key strategy" is to force the Taliban into reconciliation with the Afghan government.
"And the way we do that is by focusing on military pressure, by focusing on political pressure, working with regional partners such as Pakistan, and it's through social pressure. And this, of course, is ensuring that the government of Afghanistan continues to make the necessary reforms that President (Ashraf) Ghani has already committed to, and that he is moving out on, as we speak.”
The necessary reforms include adressing corruption and other leadership challenges and ensuring fair elections, Votel said.
"And so they are doing these things right now, and I think this will help build confidence in the government of Afghanistan for the people."
As Votel spoke, Defense Secretary James Mattis was in Afghanistan on a surprise visit to meet with the Ghani government and U.S. military commanders.
On the way over there, Mattis told reporters what victory will look like in Afghanistan. "Not a military victory," he said. "The victory will be a political reconciliation" with the Taliban, which repeatedly has rejected peace talks with the government.