United States reportedly loses its battle against Afghanistan’s narcotics industry
11 November 2013
An article “As U.S. Withdraws from Afghanistan, Poppy Trade It Spent Billions Fighting Still Flourishes” by Ernesto Londono, which was published in Washington Post on November 3, notes that the United States is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan having lost its battle against the country's narcotics industry, marking one of the starkest failures of the 2009 strategy the Obama administration pursued in an effort to turn around the war.
Despite a U.S. investment of nearly $7 billion since 2002 to combat it, the country's opium market is reportedly booming, propelled by steady demand and an insurgency that has assumed an increasingly hands-on role in the trade, according to law enforcement officials and counternarcotics experts. As the war economy contracts, opium poppies, which are processed into heroin, are poised to play an ever larger role in the country's economy and politics, undercutting two key U.S. goals: fighting corruption and weakening the link between the insurgency and the drug trade.
The Afghan army opted this spring for the first time in several years not to provide security to eradication teams in key regions, forgoing a dangerous mission that has long embittered rural Afghans who depend on the crop for their livelihoods, the article said. Experts say that, in the end, efforts over the past decade to rein in cultivation were stymied by entrenched insecurity in much of the country, poverty, and the ambivalence - and, at times, collusion - of the country's ruling class.
With a presidential election just months away, political will for anti-drug initiatives is weak among members of the Afghan elite, many of whom have become increasingly dependent on the proceeds of drugs as foreign funding dries up, said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who heads the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan.
“Money is less and less available within the licit economy,” said he. “The real danger is the weakened resistance to corruption and to involvement in a distorted political economy, which weakens your resistance to collusion with the enemy.”
The article cites U.S. military officials as saying that as U.S. forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan - roughly 51,000 American troops are left, down from a peak of 100,000 - insurgents have fought particularly hard to reclaim lost ground in Helmand province, the center of Afghanistan's poppy industry.
In its latest progress report on Afghanistan to Congress, the Pentagon warned that the 2013 poppy harvest was expected to be “considerably” bigger than 2012's, citing warmer early-season weather, the drawdown of NATO troops and the high price for poppies. The July report characterized the reach of counternarcotics efforts by the Afghan government and its foreign partners as “small but not insignificant.”
The report noted that demand remains high, drug-smuggling networks remain resilient, and “insurgent penetration of that market is extensive and expanding.” The UNODC is scheduled to release its yearly Afghan opium survey report next week. Experts and Western diplomats in Kabul have said they expect the report to show a dramatic expansion of cultivation from 2012, when the agency estimated that 154,000 hectares of land were used to harvest poppy. U.S. officials say they have established a competent, well-trained Afghan counternarcotics police agency and a special drug court to discourage the trade. But the long-term sustainability of those efforts is uncertain as the West reassesses spending levels in Afghanistan after 2014, when the U.S. combat mission is due to end, and continues to shift increasing responsibility for security to the Afghans.