SIGAR: Afghan Heroin Production ‘Flourishes’ in Territory Held by Kabul

**FILE** A Taliban militant is seen with an AK- 47 rifle gun, right, as farmers collect resin from poppies in an opium poppy field in Naway district of Helmand province, southwest Afghanistan in a Friday, April 25, 2008 file photo. Drought and anti-drug campaigns helped slash Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation …
AP Photo, File

The unprecedented level of Afghan opium cultivation has spread across the country to areas held by both Taliban terrorists and the U.S.-backed Kabul government.

This transition makes Kabul the top owner of areas producing the deadly heroin that has become a scourge across the globe, according to an assessment released by an American watchdog this week. 

Citing the United Nations and the U.S.-NATO mission Resolute Support (RS), the latest quarterly (April 1 to June 30) report prepared for American lawmakers by U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) – an office created by Congress to keep tabs on the nearly 17-year-old war – found the U.S.-backed Afghan government controls more of “the highest intensity” poppy cultivating areas. 

SIGAR chief John Sopko wrote:

Combining the [U.N.] data with the RS data shows that poppy cultivation flourishes in Afghanistan under both insurgent and government control. SIGAR’s analysis challenges the general assumption that insurgents control the highest poppy-cultivating areas or that poppy is predominantly grown in areas with insurgent activity. RS data show that the government controls or influences more districts than the insurgents, including poppy-cultivating districts. This relationship holds true for the absolute area of poppy cultivation, but is particularly evident when comparing poppy-cultivation intensity across districts.

Of the 172 districts deemed by SIGAR as high (57), medium (57), and low intensity (58) for the multi-billion-dollar opium and heroin business, the Afghan government controls or influences 91 districts. Insurgents like the Taliban control or influence 29, while the remaining 52 are contested. 

This means the vast majority of the high-profile opium cultivation area producing the heroin that has been making its way into the United States, where it causes tens of thousands of deaths, is controlled by the U.S.-backed and funded Afghan government that has received nearly $1 trillion in funding since the war started in October 2001.  

The total number of 91 high (14.21 hectares of opium per kilometer squared or less), medium (0.73 hectares per kilometer squared or less), and low intensity (0.10 hectare per kilometer squared or less) opium districts controlled by Kabul mark a more than three-fold increase from the 29 held by the Taliban. 

Even the number of districts contested are more than 40 percent lower than those held by the government. The government appears to be the drug kingpin of the heroin business, at least at the moment.  

Sopko notes:

SIGAR’s analysis challenges the general assumption that insurgents control the highest poppy-cultivating areas or that poppy is predominantly grown in areas with insurgent activity. RS [Resolute Support] data show that the government controls or influences more districts than the insurgents, including poppy-cultivating districts. This relationship holds true for the absolute area of poppy cultivation, but is particularly evident when comparing poppy-cultivation intensity across districts

Ultimately, the Taliban and corrupt Kabul government officials are reaping billions of dollars from the lucrative poppy business in Afghanistan, the world’s top producer of opium and its heroin derivative. 

“The value of 2017’s opium output was between $4.1 billion and $6.6 billion, or equivalent to 20 to 32 percent of Afghanistan’s entire gross domestic product,” Sopko declared last month, noting that the illicit opium business appears to be the country’s top job producer. 

At least in public, the U.S. and Kabul do not discuss the future of the lucrative poppy fields in peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Acknowledging that Colombia has once again become the world’s top cocaine producer in the world amid U.S.-backed peace negotiations between the terrorist FARC – the top cocaine supplier in the region – and the South American government, Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) urged the Trump administration not to turn a blind eye to heroin production in Afghanistan during peace talks.

Addressing witness Alice Wells, one of the Trump administration diplomats who is now reportedly negotiating with the Taliban:

I’m very hopeful that we do have a prospect for peace in Afghanistan. But I look at the Colombia Peace Pact and I see what it’s done to the drug — drug growth in that — in that country. And I just want to make sure that, when we talk about peace, we do take in consideration that this is a very lucrative business in Afghanistan.

And, I don’t know if we want to continue just basically saying it’s OK for them to keep growing this, the opium growth.

A recent Politico investigation found that the former President Barack Obama’s administration ignored the skyrocketing production of opium and heroin that ultimately fueled the deadly U.S. drug crisis. 

While Latin America countries like Mexico and Colombia are top producers of heroin, some experts suggest they do not produce nearly enough for all the addicts in the United States. 

The Politico investigation notes that Afghan heroin is entering the U.S. through Canada. The U.S. government maintains the vast majority of heroin comes from South Asia and flows across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Al-Qaeda in Africa, a middleman for shipping Afghan heroin to the Americas, has been working with Mexican drug cartels according to the U.S. military. 

As the U.S. allegedly engages directly with the Taliban in negotiations to end the war, the future of the multi-billion dollar opium cultivation and heroin production that is so vital to the country’s economy appears uncertain. One optimistic scenario could find legal Afghan opium production for medicinal purposes reducing Afghanistan’s reliance on American taxpayer-funded assistance. 

The U.S. State Department has come out against allowing Afghanistan to legalize heroin for medicinal purposes, arguing the country “would not be able to compete internationally and there would be a high risk of ‘leakage,’ namely opium finding its way back into the illegal drug trade,” the Diplomat reported in 2014. 

According to SIGAR, the Afghan government’s stronghold with the largest levels of cultivation in 2017 are spread across Afghanistan from northern Badakhshan province (3,658 hectares or opium) that borders China, Helmand (18,464 hectares) and  Kandahar (7,605 hectares) along the Pakistan border, and Nimroz Province (4,167 hectares). 

The U.S. military has revealed that heroin primarily moves out of Afghanistan across its borders with Pakistan, Iran, and in the north, which means the Afghan government has the perfect set up. 

SIGAR acknowledges that not all provinces are being fully covered by satellite imagery, which suggests the numbers could be even higher. 

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