Quote: Originally Posted by White_Unifier
If drug smuggling to Canada carried a mandatory death penalty unless the smuggler declares the narcotics at the primary checkpoint before going on to secondary inspection, do you think Canadians could support that?
After 16 years and $1tn spent, there is no end to the fighting – but western intervention has resulted in Afghanistan becoming the world’s first true narco-state.
The CIA looked the other way while Afghanistan’s opium production grew from about 100 tonnes annually in the 1970s to 2,000 tonnes by 1991. In 1979 and 1980, just as the CIA effort was beginning to ramp up, a network of heroin laboratories opened along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. That region soon became the world’s largest heroin producer. By 1984, it supplied a staggering 60% of the US market and 80% of the European. Inside Pakistan, the number of heroin addicts surged from near zero (yes, zero) in 1979 to 5,000 in 1980, and 1.3 million by 1985 – a rate of addiction so high the UN termed it “particularly shocking”.
At the time, John Sopko, the special inspector for Afghanistan, offered a telling explanation for the Taliban’s survival. Despite the expenditure of a staggering $7.6bn on “drug eradication” programs during the previous decade, he concluded that, “by every conceivable metric, we’ve failed. Production and cultivation are up, interdiction and eradication are down, financial support to the insurgency is up, and addiction and abuse are at unprecedented levels in Afghanistan”.
As the 2014 opium crop was harvested, fresh UN figures suggested that production levels were approaching the country’s 2007 high. In May 2015, having watched this flood of drugs enter the global market as US counter-narcotics spending climbed to $8.4bn, Sopko tried to translate these developments into a comprehensible all-American image. “Afghanistan,” he said, “has roughly 500,000 acres, or about 780 square miles, devoted to growing opium poppy. That’s equivalent to more than 400,000 US football fields – including the end zones”.
During Afghanistan’s 2015 fighting season, the Taliban decisively seized the combat initiative, and opium seemed ever more deeply embedded in its operations. In October 2015, the UN released a map showing that the Taliban had “high” or “extreme” control in more than half the country’s rural districts. Within a month, the Taliban unleashed offensives countrywide that were aimed at seizing and holding territory. Not surprisingly, the strongest attacks came in the poppy heartland of Helmand province, where half the country’s opium crop was then grown.
In 2016, 15 years after Afghanistan was “liberated”, and in a significant reversal of the Obama administration’s drawdown policies, Washington launched a mini-surge
by “hundreds” of new US troops into Helmand province to deny insurgents the “economic prize” of the world’s most productive poppy fields. Despite support from US airpower and 700 special-operations troops, in February and March 2016 embattled Afghan government forces retreated from two more districts, leaving the Taliban largely in control of 10 of the province’s 14 districts.
With its forces demoralised and the Taliban fielding aggressive fighters equipped with night-vision and sophisticated weapons, US airstrikes became the Afghan government’s last, tenuous line of defence. And in a tacit admission of failure, the Obama administration ended its planned withdrawal in June 2016, allowing US forces to move beyond advising and rejoin actual combat, and announcing, a month later, that 8,400 troops would remain there for the foreseeable future.
In Helmand and other strategic provinces, the Afghan army seemed to be losing a war that was now driven – in ways that eluded most observers – by a battle for control of the country’s opium profits. In Helmand province, both Taliban rebels and provincial officials are locked in a struggle for control of the lucrative drug traffic. “Afghan government officials have become directly involved in the opium trade”, the New York Times reported in February 2016. In so doing, they expanded “their competition with the Taliban … into a struggle for control of the drug traffic”, while imposing “a tax on farmers practically identical to the one the Taliban uses”. In a process that implicated virtually the entire government, provincial officials then passed a portion of their illicit profits “up the chain, all the way to officials in Kabul … ensuring that the local authorities maintain support from higher-ups and keeping the opium growing”.
Simultaneously, a UN security council investigation found that the Taliban had systematically tapped “into the supply chain at each stage of the narcotics trade” – collecting a 10% tax on opium cultivation in Helmand, fighting for control of heroin laboratories and acting as “the major guarantors for the trafficking of raw opium and heroin out of Afghanistan”. No longer simply taxing the traffic, the Taliban was so deeply and directly involved that, according to the New York Times, it “has become difficult to distinguish the group from a dedicated drug cartel”.
These dismal trends persisted throughout 2017, as the Afghan opium harvest nearly doubled to 9,000 tonnes
, well above the previous peak of 8,200 tonnes in 2007. Inside wartorn Helmand province, the poppy area increased by 79% to 144,000 hectares, representing 44% of the country’s total crop. In November, convinced that opium is providing 60% of the Taliban’s funds for wages and weapons, the US command – emboldened and expanded by Donald Trump’s decision to “win”
the Afghan war – dispatched, for the first time ever, F-22 fighters and B-52 bombers to destroy 10 of the Taliban’s heroin laboratories in Helmand, a small share of the country’s 500 drug refineries.
For the foreseeable future, opium will likely remain entangled in the rural economy, the Taliban insurgency, and government corruption whose sum is the Afghan conundrum.