The Afghan Poppy Problem

14 02 2010

USA Today:

Poppy production has skyrocketed since the 2001 U.S. invasion. President Bush proposed chemical spraying to kill poppy fields, but the Afghan government and European countries resisted that step as too harsh.

As we know the poppy fields of Afghanistan produce over 90% of the worlds opium supply making it the largest manufacturer of heroin in the world. Since the beginning of the war  poppy production has hit record highs and produced massive profits, but where are these profits going and who is benefiting? Like many aspects of the war in Afghanistan the poppy issue seems to contradict logic. One would assume that once the “good guys” took control of Afghanistan the illegal drug trade would go into decline rather than escalate but this is not the case. One might also assume that it would be harder for the insurgents to export this illegal product to the rest of the world with a foreign enemy occupying it’s country but as we’ve learned this seems to have had the opposite effect.

Afghanistan produces 40 times more heroin

Since opium production has “sky rocketed” since the U.S. invasion it would be logical to assume that the Taliban have had help exporting their product which indeed appears to be the case. In October of 2009 major media outlets began reporting that the brother of the Afghan President, Ahmed Wali Karzai has been on the C.I.A. payroll for at least the last eight years. This would explain how opium production has increased despite the fact that the U.S. not only occupies the country but has seized control of most of it’s biggest poppy fields.

NY Times: Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A.

Recently the U.S. has begun a major offensive in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province which produces more than half of the worlds opium supply. Some controversy has arisen over the announcement weeks prior to the offensive that the U.S. would attack. Some wonder why the military would risk their operation by giving the insurgents a heads up. Since when is it in your best interest to tell the enemy weeks or months in advance that you are coming to kill them? Some U.S. officials have stated that the reason for the announcement is to give innocent civilians a chance to leave before the fighting starts. If this is the case then it has been a complete failure as CNN is reporting at least 12 dead civilians two days into the offensive.

Civilians die in second day of Afghan offensive:

Twelve Afghan civilians died when two rockets fired by coalition forces missed their intended target in the Nad Ali district of Helmand Province, where the offensive is taking place, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said.

Growing speculation suggests that the military’s advanced warning of the offensive was a deliberate attempt to clear the poppy farms of civilians so that confiscation of these farms will be less confrontational. Of course like with many other major poppy fields in Afghanistan these fields, rather than being destroyed, will be “guarded” by coalition forces. This prompts a question, if you wanted to get rid of heroin trafficking all together wouldn’t the most logical course of action be to destroy the poppy fields rather than preserve them? Then why is it that U.S. officials are fighting to keep the fields in production?

NY Times: Poppy Fields Are Now a Front Line in Afghanistan War:

The State Department and Pentagon repeatedly clashed over drug policy, according to current and former officials who were interviewed. Pentagon leaders refused to bomb drug laboratories and often balked at helping other agencies and the Afghan government destroy poppy fields, disrupt opium shipments or capture major traffickers, the officials say.

Some of the officials declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and military leaders also played down or dismissed growing signs that drug money was being funneled to the Taliban, the officials say.

And the C.I.A. and military turned a blind eye to drug-related activities by prominent warlords or political figures they had installed in power, Afghan and American officials say.

It’s also important to note that in July of 2001 (9 months after the U.S. invasion) it was being reported that Afghanistan’s poppy production had dwindled down to zero percent and that the drug trade was no longer a problem due to U.S. intervention. In fact it was also reported in 2001 that the Taliban had placed a ban on poppy production which also helped end the drug problem in Afghanistan. So what happened? Why did opium and heroin production begin to sky rocket once the U.S. had gained control of the country? Something doesn’t quite add up.

CBS News: Afghanistan bans growing of poppies for opium:

The United Nations Drug Control Program says the world’s biggest heroin producing country, Afghanistan, has gone out of the drug business.

A UNDCP report to be released next month will say Afghanistan has completely eradicated cultivation of the opium poppy, the plant producing the resin which is refined into heroin.

“We do not grow poppies and we will not grow them. This is a Taliban edict and it must be obeyed,” Sheikh Rashimi, leader of the village of Spenghagbarga, told the CBC’s Patrick Brown.

The Taliban’s ban on opium products has cost many people their livelihoods. But no one dares defy the ban.

Last year Afghanistan produced almost 4,000 tonnes of opium. This year’s figure is zero.

There is definitely something very suspicious about the military’s handling of the Afghan drug production and with the U.S. governments track record of importing illegal drugs into the U.S. it would be no surprise if this latest offensive is an attempted take over of one of the last opium stronghold in Afghanistan not controlled by the U.S. for the purposes of controlling and maintaining the illegal opium trade that produces billions upon billions of dollars in profit.

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