Investigative Group

US Spent $8.5 Billion Fighting Narcotics, Afghanistan Set New Opium High

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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Afghanistan set new records for opium production in 2016 despite an $8.5 billion counternarcotics campaign investment by U.S. agencies, a special government watchdog reported Sunday.

Opium production increased 43 percent in 2016, while poppy eradication hit a 10-year low and was “nearly imperceptible,” according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) latest Quarterly Report to Congress.

“Deteriorating security conditions, a lack of political will and the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics’ ineffective management all contributed to the paltry eradication results in 2016,” the report said. Poppy “cultivation remained near historically high levels compared with the past several decades.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s “narcotics industry — coupled with rampant corruption and fraud — is a major source of illicit revenue,” the report said. The “opium trade provides about 60 percent of the Taliban’s funding.”

The Taliban is an Islamic extremist group that ruled Afghanistan until the U.S. military intervention following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorist attack in New York and Washington, D.C. that killed more than 3,000 people. The Taliban allowed al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as its training base for attacks against the U.S. and other Western nations.

“Traffickers provide weapons, funding, and material support to the insurgency in exchange for protection, while insurgent leaders traffic drugs to nance their operations,” the report said.

Afghanistan “remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter — producing an estimated 80 percent of the world’s heroin. While U.S. heroin mainly comes from Mexico, Afghan heroin does make up the majority of heroin consumed in Canada and the rest of the world.”

The Department of Defense and the Drug Enforcement Administration interdicted nearly 450,000 kilograms of opium from 2008 through March 22, 2017, but that amounts to less than one percent of Afghanistan’s total production.

Drug interdictions did, however, rise 60 percent over the last quarter, but drug “use among women and children is among the highest documented worldwide, and 30.6 percent of households tested positive for some form of illicit drug,” the report said.

John Sopko, who is in his fifth year as SIGAR, recommended that President Donald Trump establish “a U.S. counternarcotics strategy, now years overdue, to reduce the illicit commerce that provides the Taliban with the bulk of their revenue.”

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