Our War In Afghanistan: Stimulus Program For The Heroin Trade
The Defense Department’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its required quarterly report to Congress Tuesday. In it we learn that after 11 years and $7.6 billion dollars’ worth of counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan, poppy production for the heroin trade reached “unprecedented” levels in 2013 — in fact, it’s highest level ever. As the military newspaper Stars and Stripes put it, the new areas of cultivation are twice the size of New York City or 12 times the size of Washington, D.C.
[su_center_ad]Citing data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2013, Special Inspector General John F. Sopko reported a single-year 36% jump in the total acreage devoted to poppy farming. Sopko concluded that the growth in poppy cultivation “calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability” of the coalition/Afghani counter-narcotics program and predicted likely increases in cultivation as security across Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. This is especially the case since the areas of heaviest poppy production are also the areas of heaviest Taliban activity.
Ironically, the growth in poppy cultivation was a direct result of humanitarian programs intended to fuel the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s agricultural economy. By bringing modern, deep-well irrigation technology to Afghani farmers in the hope that mor arable land could be put to food production, the US and its coalition partners made growing poppy for the heroin trade more efficient, more profitable, and, therefore, more appealing.
Because the narcotics trade is an important source of funding for the Taliban, and because the Taliban continue to gain strength as coalition forces continue to withdraw, a return to the instability that characterized Afghanistan in the 1990s seems inevitable. Moreover, William Byrd, an Afghanistan expert with the United States Institute for Peace, told the Stars and Stripes “elements of the Afghan government may be profiting from the crop just as much as the armed groups that oppose it.”
That would hardly be surprising. According to Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that measures corruption worldwide, Afghanistan is the third-most corrupt country in the world.
And in a final — and ironic — indignity, the UNODC points out it was the Taliban themselves who ran the world’s most successful anti-narcotics program, ultimately reducing poppy cultivation by 91%. In the 13 years since the Taliban were toppled by the United States, on the other hand, poppy cultivation has grown almost unabated — with the Taliban themselves the principal beneficiaries. You might say that under our stewardship Afghanistan has become the biggest drug cartel of them all.
Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 US troops will continue to serve in Afghanistan past the “end” of the war this year, with a small contingent of NATO soldiers alongside them.
A war without end, and one where the only thing growing as a result of all the wasted life and treasure is heroin. What a long, strange trip it’s been.[su_csky_ad]