Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
The US Spent $8.6 Billion Fighting The Afghan Drug Trade — And Failed Miserably
In 15 years in Afghanistan, no counternarcotics effort undertaken by the U.S., it partners, or the Afghan government has led to sustained reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production.
That was one of a number of findings of a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan report issued this week, underlining insufficient, uncoordinated, and at-times counterproductive initiatives in Afghanistan to reduce drug production there.
Between 2002 and 2017, the U.S. government has allocated roughly $8.62 billion to fight narcotics in Afghanistan. But the drug trade remains entrenched. Opium is Afghanistan's largest cash crop, reaching an export value of $1.5 billion to $3 billion in recent years. In 2017 alone, poppy cultivation was thought to support 590,000 full-time jobs — which is more people than are employed by Afghanistan's military and security forces.
Heroin and opium produced in Afghanistan are trafficked largely to Europe, Africa, and other parts of Asia.
The primary markets are Europe, Asia, and Africa. Opiates from Afghanistan travel through other Central or South Asian states — drug addiction has exploded in Iran, with opium making up two-thirds of consumption — to reach destinations in Europe and Asia. Drugs also travel maritime routes to Africa and Oceania.
Ninety percent of the heroin seized in Canada comes from Afghanistan, but scant amounts reach the U.S. — 1% or less of the drug seized in the U.S. can be traced back to the Central Asian country.
The amount of Southwest Asian heroin in the U.S. peaked in the early 1980s, according to the DEA. It was replaced by Southeast Asian heroin — largely from Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand — in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The amount of South American heroin found the US started to increase in the mid-1990s, but by the late 2000s, Mexican heroin started to become predominant — in 2015 it was the more than 90% of the heroin seized in the US.
The share of US heroin sourced to Mexico has grown considerably in recent years2017 DEA NDTA
Opium has been cultivated in Afghanistan for centuries. It was under royal control from 1933 to 1973, but the Soviet invasion and occupation from 1979 to 1989 crippled the legitimate economy and allowed illegal enterprises and criminal networks to thrive.
Production soared after the Taliban took control of most of the country in 1996. But it banned the crop in 2000, leading to a 75% drop in the global supply of heroin but leaving farmers destitute, as no alternative to poppy cultivation was provided.
Cultivation was at a historic low in 2001, when the U.S. and its coalition partners invaded. Counterdrug work was done in the period that followed, but the vacuum created by the lack of functioning Afghan institutions limited their effectiveness.
Despite year-to-year variations, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has steadily increased over the last 20 years.Special Inspector General For Afghanistan Reconstruction
2004 saw an increase in cultivation, which was followed by more concerted U.S. efforts to staunch it as well as increased counternarcotics efforts by coalition partners. Cultivation leveled off in 2009 and 2010 — around the time of the U.S.-led surge that brought more attention to combating the drug trade.
But cultivation started to rise in 2011, compounded by missteps and a reduced emphasis on counternarcotics. "From 2013 to 2016, drug production continued at or near the highest levels ever consistently seen in Afghanistan," the report states. Recent years have also seen eradication stall.
A US-led airstrike on a Taliban drug lab in northern Helmand Province, November 2017.U.S. Air Force
A UN survey in 2017 found cultivation had hit a new high, covering more than 810,000 acres. (The Taliban has also expanded its involvement in the drug trade.)
2017 also saw a new Trump administration strategy that brought with it an "unprecedented" level of attention to Afghan drug production by U.S. military commanders, according to the report — marked by a "sustained air interdiction campaign" that included advanced aircraft striking rudimentary drug labs.
The increases in drug cultivation make clear the failure of counternarcotics efforts, the report says, but it stresses that those failures are not the only factors that have led to the increases.
"The exponential rise in opium poppy cultivation and drug production is rooted in far-reaching, persistent challenges in Afghanistan—namely, lack of security, a poor economy, weak governing institutions, and failures of the wider reconstruction effort," the report states.
"Given these challenges, there are serious limitations to the U.S. capacity to bring about large-scale, lasting reductions in poppy cultivation and drug production," it adds, noting the opium economy will continue to undercut U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
"Therefore, ongoing U.S. reconstruction efforts must effectively address, or at least attempt to mitigate, the drug-related threats to Afghan security and stability."
Read the whole SIGAR report below:
Read more from Business Insider:
- The largest battle in the Yemen war is raging on after a UAE warship was reportedly struck by missiles
- Trump claims parents of Korean War soldiers asked for his help, but most of them are likely dead
- This former Miss America just joined the US Air Force
- Norway wants more US Marines and to station them closer to Russia, and Moscow is vowing to retaliate
- We toured the heavily-armed and stealthy warship that may be the US Navy's next frigate
Senior defense officials offered a wide range of excuses to reporters on Wednesday about why they may not comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for documents related to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
On Oct. 7, lawmakers subpoenaed information about military aid to Ukraine. Eight days later, a Pentagon official told them to pound sand in part because many of the documents requested are communications with the White House that are protected by executive privilege.
Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will announce legislation Wednesday aiming to "fix" a new Trump administration citizenship policy that affects some children of U.S. service members stationed abroad.
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.