The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stressed to Breitbart News this week that commensurate with U.S. seizures, a small amount of heroin entering the United States from Afghanistan, the world’s top producer of the drug, is having a “limited impact” on the nation’s opioid crisis.
“We only know what is seized; we don’t know what we miss. But given that SWA [Southwest Asian] heroin accounted for less than one percent of all the heroin seized in FY2016 (October 2015 through September 2016), it’s a small amount,” Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for DEA, told Breitbart News regarding the presence of Afghanistan-based heroin in the United States.
“DEA cannot say with certainty that Southwest Asian heroin (Afghanistan) has not contributed to fatal overdoses, but DEA’s labs [only] analyze samples of seized heroin from law enforcement agencies,” she also said, noting that “the process does not exist to link the source countries of illicit drugs to overdoses.”
Under U.S President Donald Trump, the United States has deemed the drug overdoses that killed an unprecedented 72,287 people in America in 2017 a national security threat.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, opioids alone, including heroin (15,950) and synthetic drugs like fentanyl (29,418), killed more people (about 49,000) than terrorist attacks across the globe, which left 26,400 dead.
Breitbart News reached out to the DEA for comment about the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment announced this month of an Afghan man who allegedly tried to smuggle “hundreds of kilograms” of Afghanistan-based heroin into New York on behalf of the Taliban.
In a press release, DOJ announced it had indicted the man “for attempting to import heroin into the United States [and] engaging in narco-terrorism for the benefit of the [Afghan] Taliban” and its Haqqani Network allies, considered one of the deadliest groups facing U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
DEA is a component of DOJ, which credited the agency with the investigation that led to the February 6 extradition of Haji Abdul Sattar Barakzai and his subsequent indictment. The Taliban generates most of its funding for terrorist activities from cultivating and trafficking opium, the main ingredient in heroin, according to the Pentagon.
“This action highlights the DEA’s ability to hold accountable not only those who reside within our borders but also those operating in other countries. Drug traffickers that bring harm to the citizens of this country must answer for their unlawful activities that have fueled the opioid epidemic,” Christopher Tersigni, the special agent in charge of DEA’s special operations division, declared in a statement on February 6.
Asked in the wake of the indictment what impact Afghan heroin is having on the ongoing overdose epidemic in the United States, Carreno, the DEA spokeswoman, replied, a “limited impact, commensurate with the low level of Southwest Asian heroin being seen in the U.S.”
Afghanistan is the world’s chief producer of opium despite nearly $9 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds devoted to counternarcotics in the country since the war began in October 2001. The DEA has insisted only one percent of the heroin seized in the United States originates from the conflict-ridden nation.
“Our 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment states … that our Heroin Signature Program, which analyzes and classifies seized samples of heroin according to the part of the world they are from, found less than one percent of the samples came from Southwest Asia, which includes Afghanistan,” Carreno told Breitbart News. “Our Heroin Domestic Monitoring Program data of heroin samples analyzed in 2016 shows that of 667 samples analyzed, only four came from Southwest Asia.”
The DEA maintains that the vast majority of heroin in the United States originates from Latin America, mainly Mexico.
Under President Trump, the U.S. has intensified efforts towards a peace agreement with the Taliban. It remains unclear if the Trump administration will push the Taliban to stop cultivating and trafficking heroin, some of which is fueling deadly drug overdoses in the United States.
Asked if the recent indictment will affect ongoing negotiations led by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), a spokesperson for the department told Breitbart News, “We are not going to negotiate in public. This is the beginning of a long process which we continue to work through private diplomatic channels.”
John Sopko, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), recently reported that Trump’s unprecedented airstrike campaign against the Taliban’s primary revenue stream — opium and heroin labs — “seems to have abated” amid intensified U.S. peace-seeking efforts in recent months.
Last year, a Politico investigation found that Taliban peace efforts and other “political concerns” under the previous administration prompted former President Barack Obama to derail a plan to prosecute Taliban drug kingpins in U.S. courts that could have curtailed unprecedented heroin operations in Afghanistan that fueled the deadly opioid crisis across the United States.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, Sopko suggested that the United States should investigate the possible link between Afghan heroin and the opioid epidemic.
Echoing the DEA, Sopko conceded at the end of October 2018 that Afghan heroin “contributes a minimal amount” to the record lethal overdose fatalities in the United States in recent years.
The Taliban generates more than 60 percent of its annual income, estimated to be at least $400 million, from illicit narcotics.
In the wake of historic opium cultivation and production in Afghanistan, BBC noted in December 2018 that the terrorist group’s revenue may “have significantly increased in recent years and could be as high as $1.5 billion.”
“By value, opium poppy is the most important crop in Afghanistan, generating between $4–6.5 billion of potential exports in 2017—the equivalent of 20–32% of Afghanistan’s licit GDP—according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),” SIGAR noted in its most recent assessment of the war in Afghanistan.
In June 2018, the U.S. sentenced an Afghan national to a mandatory minimum of ten years in prison in connection to a multi-million-dollar conspiracy to smuggle heroin from Afghanistan.
The Trump administration has also declared a public health emergency due to the historic number of drug overdoses. Afghanistan borders China, which is the primary source of the synthetic opioid fentanyl often mixed with heroin and is the main driver behind the drug deaths in the United States.