Afghanistan's Opium Trade Tripled After US Spends $10 Billion

Image: Afghanistan's Opium Trade Tripled After US Spends $10 Billion

Thursday, 16 Jan 2014 11:27 AM

By Courtney Coren

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After spending $10 billion in Afghanistan over the last 12 years to combat the drug trade, opium production has "nearly tripled" over the last decade since the Afghanistan War began, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told Congress.

"Afghan farmers are growing more opium poppies today than at any time in their modern history," Sopko told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. "Despite this mammoth investment, more land in Afghanistan is under poppy cultivation today than it was when the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2002."

Of the money spent, $7 billion has been for the purpose of funding programs to reduce poppy cultivation, prevent narcotics production, treat drug addiction and make improvements to the criminal justice system. The other $3 billion has gone toward agriculture and stabilization programs, which is considered a key component to fighting the drug trade in Afghanistan.

In 2002, opium fields covered 74,000 hectares. One hectare is equivalent to about 2½ acres. In 2013, opium production covered "a record high of 209,000 hectares," Sopko said. The poppy fields in Afghanistan take up more than 800 square miles, which the inspector general explained is "more than twice the size of all the boroughs of New York City."

He said the growing drug industry is poison to the financial sector in the poverty-stricken country, which "is undermining the Afghan state's legitimacy by stoking corruption, nourishing criminal networks, and providing significant financial support to the Taliban and other insurgent groups."

With "as much as 90 percent of the world's global opium supply" coming from Afghanistan, the drug boom in the country has global consequences.

The United States is not giving up on its efforts to combat the booming drug trade, according to The Washington Post. The Defense Department is setting up an intelligence center in Bahrain for the purpose of combating the growing drug industry as part of its post-2014 strategy in the Persian Gulf country, Erin Logan, director of counternarcotics and global threats at the Pentagon, told the same Senate caucus.

However, Sopko said that he is not optimistic about the situation going into 2014, calling it "dire with little prospect for improvement."

"The people I spoke with in Afghanistan in my last few trips talked about two possible outcomes following the 2014 transition in Afghanistan: a successful modern state, or an insurgent state," Sopko concluded. "However, there is a third possibility: a narco-criminal state."

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