The US military has sharply expanded its air campaign against the Taliban in the first major test of President Donald Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan, a stalemated war now in its 17th year.

The first strikes targeted Taliban drug labs, but those initial attacks are only part of an ambitious effort to use air power to help destroy the Taliban’s finances and militant networks.

“It’s much more of a broad approach,” said Major General David Nahom, deputy commander of US Air Forces Central Command.

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Over the past several years, the US has curtailed air support as it turned over fighting to the Afghan security forces.

Under Mr Trump’s plan, Afghan security forces will still be in the lead, but they will be supported by a major US strategic bombing campaign.

Maj Gen Nahom said military planners will develop an array of targets to destroy the Taliban’s leadership and ability to command and control its forces.

“This is really the first step,” he said.

In August, the Trump administration ordered new authorities that lifted restrictions on what could be targeted. Planners began pouring over intelligence to find targets that would cripple the Taliban’s finances.

“We’re working very hard to gain more understanding of the networks,” Maj Gen Nahom said.

The drug business was a natural place to start. The Pentagon estimates that half the Taliban’s revenues came from the drug trade, allowing the militants to pay fighters and buy weapons. The Taliban “taxes” poppy farmers and also refines the harvest into heroin.

The strikes on drug labs last month cost the Taliban between $7 million (£5.2m) and $10m (£7.4m) in lost revenues, the US military command in Afghanistan said.

The number of bombs and other munitions dropped on Taliban targets has already tripled this year, according to General John Nicholson, the top coalition commander in Afghanistan.

US warplanes dropped 3,554 bombs and other munitions in the first 10 months of this year, according to U.S. military statistics.

The new approach is a reversal of President Barack Obama’s strategy. After US combat forces withdrew in 2014 the Afghan security forces took the lead in combating the Taliban.

Mr Obama announced a plan to withdraw most of the remaining advisers from the country by the end of his presidency in 2016. US airstrikes would be mostly limited to defending US troops.

Mr Obama later revised the plan and decided to leave nearly 10,000 US troops in the country, but the sharp drawdown and limits on air power allowed the Taliban to seize control of some rural areas and inflict heavy casualties on Afghan troops.

David Sedney, a senior Pentagon official under the Obama administration, said one of the reasons he resigned in 2013 was Mr Obama’s decision to draw down most US forces, which he said put American troops at risk without giving them a shot at breaking the stalemate against the Taliban.

“We weren’t winning and we weren’t losing,” Mr Sedney said. “We were still dying.”

Mr Trump’s plan also calls for increasing the number of American advisers and giving them more leeway in accompanying Afghan forces into battle. US advisers will now be able to go with Afghan combat battalions into battle.

The Pentagon said they would deploy an additional 3,000 US troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to about 14,000.

The Afghan forces will remain in the lead, but the additional advisers and airstrikes will allow them to prevent further Taliban advances, analysts say. Still, some military experts question whether it will be enough to turn the tide on a war that has dragged on for almost two decades.

“It’s probably enough to make sure the Taliban does not seize and hold major urban areas at least for the foreseeable future,” said Seth Jones, an analyst at Rand Corp. “Whether it’s enough to turn the tide, that’s a harder question.”

The increased bombing has also raised concerns about civilian casualties. The United Nations has reported an increase in casualties from bombing, though Gen Nicholson has said the military disagrees with some of their findings.

The biggest obstacle to success against the Taliban is Pakistan, analysts say. The Taliban’s leadership has sanctuary over the border in Pakistan and the government in Islamabad has not always shown a willingness to do anything about it.

“The question is the amount of pressure the U.S. is willing to put on Pakistan,” Mr Sedney said.

The US military cannot bomb targets across the border, but it may be able to ramp up attacks on infiltration routes into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

“We’re hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are…crossing the Durand Line,” Gen Nicholson said, referring to the border between the two countries.

*This article first appeared in our sister newspaper, USA Today