The United Nations believes Afghanistan’s opium production will surge 46 percent in 2016, expanding the coffers of an increasingly successful Taliban.
“Drugs have direct links with corruption, terrorism and development. Without tackling drug problem and elicit economy, in general, it will not be possible to solve other problems facing Afghanistan,” a representative of the UN Office On Drugs And Crime told reporters in Afghanistan Sunday. The surge in opium production is also tied to bumper crop year for poppy cultivation.
Afghanistan is one of the world’s principle sources for the world’s heroin supply, and Taliban rake in nearly 3 billion dollars annually smuggling the drug out of the country.
The increase in opium profits for the Taliban come amid their greatest battlefield victories since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Taliban militants currently threaten five provincial capitals across the country, and are inflicting massive losses on the U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces.
The Afghan forces have suffered historic casualties since the end of the U.S. combat mission in 2014 — 4,500 men were lost between March and August, with 900 of those casualties sustained in the month of July alone. Current estimates put Afghan losses at nearly 18 men per day.
The Taliban’s greatest success has come in the Helmand province, once home to tens of thousands of U.S. troops in 2010-2011. President Barack Obama surged troops in Afghanistan in 2009, hoping to pacifying the historic Taliban sanctuary. The Taliban now controls nearly 85 percent of the province and is besieging the capital city of Lashkar Gah. The majority of Afghanistan’s opium comes from the Helmand province, with the Taliban almost entirely controlling the drug trade.
Even Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told Congress in September that the Taliban controls nearly 30 percent of the country.
“On balance, I would call what is going on right now between the Afghan national defense security forces and the Taliban [as] roughly a stalemate,” he characterized the situation.
Obama’s strategy is doing “just enough to lose slowly” in Afghanistan, according to New America Foundation Senior Fellow Douglas Ollivant.
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