Report by DC’s Afghanistan war watchdog found opium cultivation unaffected by $7.5bn US spent to combat it… Opium cultivation is estimated to be at an all-time high in Afghanistan… Drug use inside Afghanistan has spiked …Beyond Afghanistan’s borders, about three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium products originates from the country…
Opium cultivation is estimated to be at an all-time high in Afghanistan, despite the US spending $7.5bn to combat it. A report released recently by Washington’s Afghanistan war watchdog has found that the billions spent by the State and Defense departments on counter-narcotics since 2002 has been for nought. Opium-poppy cultivation takes up 209,000 hectares (516,230 acres) of land in Afghanistan, a 36 per cent increase since 2012.
Drug use inside Afghanistan has spiked, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. About 1.3 million Afghan adults were regular drug users in 2012, up from 1 million in 2009; regular opium users grew to 230,000 in 2009 from 130,000 in 2005. The population ofAfghanistan is just under 32 million.
Beyond Afghanistan’s borders, about three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium products originates from the country, which sees its poppy cultivation concentrated almost entirely in the country’s southern and western provinces. Those areas – particularly Helmand and Kandaharprovinces – were where the bulk of US and UK forces were deployed during the 2010-12 troop surge.
The interdiction efforts that the US and its Afghan partners continue to perform, however, are concentrated in eastern Afghanistan and the capital ofKabul, a shift away from the areas of cultivation. The inspector general attributes the shift to the drawdown of US forces, since the threat of attack in those areas is “generally less than the threat in the south and southwest”.
The drawdown, set to conclude by December 2014, is reflected in the decline of overall US counter-narcotics missions, barely any of which are performed unilaterally anymore. In 2013, coalition and Afghan forces seized 41,000 kg of opium, while Afghans produced 5.5m kilograms of it. Overall operations are down 17 per cent since 2011, with opium seizures down 57 per cent and heroin seizures down 77 per cent. As well, much of the country’s drug trafficking is invisible or inaccessible to the Afghan forces the US mentors and funds.
“Drug labs, storage sites, and major trafficking networks are concentrated in rural areas that are increasingly off-limits to Afghan forces due the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) drawdown and declining security in these areas,” the report found. While eradication accounted for a significant component of US counter-narcotics strategy during the mid-2000s, the US-led coalition shifted away from it in recent years, owing to a conclusion that crop destruction drove farmers and those dependent on them into the hands of the Taliban. The Obama administration and the USmilitary once implored Afghans to grow grapes, wheat and pomegranates instead. Yet the State Department still funds an Afghan drug eradication effort – albeit one the watchdog indicates is a numbers game.
In 2013, the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics reported the destruction of about 7,300 hectares (18,031 acres) of poppy fields, barely 3 per cent of the amount of cultivated opium fields, consistent with what the watchdog found was a 4 per cent yearly eradication average since 2008.
That eradication effort appears to leave the areas of high poppy concentration intact. The State Department told the inspector general that it focuses on “provinces close to poppy-free status in order to further increase the number of poppy-free provinces”. The explosion in opiate production, unaffected by the $7.5bn spent by the US since 2002 to combat it, puts “the entire US and donor investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk,” special inspector general John Sopko told a Senate panel in January. “All of the fragile gains we have made over the last twelve years on women’s issues, health, education, rule of law, and governance are now, more than ever, in jeopardy of being wiped out by the narcotics trade which not only supports the insurgency, but also feeds organised crime and corruption.”
– The Guardian