U.S. Gives Up On Eradicating Afghanistan's Opium
BY STEPHEN C. WEBSTER
Since the United States invaded Afghanistan, the country’s number one cash crop, opium, has repeatedly broken production records for the country. By some estimates, the occupied territory now supplies by some 90 percent of the world’s poppies.
So far, eradication efforts have merely fueled the Taliban’s coffers and driven civilian farmers further outside of U.S. influence. Because of this, the United States has formed a new strategy in the fight against the crop: They are giving up.
“The Western policies against the opium crop, the poppy crop, have been a failure,” said Richard Holbrooke, America’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, speaking to a G8 conference on Afghanistan.
“They did not result in any damage to the Taliban, but they put farmers out of work. We are not going to support crop eradication. We’re going to phase it out,” he told Reuters.
He said the new U.S. strategy will focus on intercepting chemicals used to refine opium into heroin. Troops will also attempt to target the country’s most powerful drug barons, although this has been a component of counter-narcotics in the country since the invasion.
“The Taliban [...] derives up to $100 million a year from the poppy harvest by taxing farmers and charging safe passage fees — money that will buy weapons for use against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops,” noted the Associated Press.
In spite of past efforts, from 2005 - 2006, opium production ramped up 26 percent, reported The Washington Post.
“Any disruption of the drug trade has enormous implications for Afghanistan’s economic and political stability,” reported the Post. “Although its relative strength in the overall economy has diminished as other sectors have expanded in recent years, narcotics is a $2.6 billion-a-year industry that this year provided more than a third of the country’s gross domestic product. Farmers who cultivate opium poppies receive only a small percentage of the profits, but U.S. officials estimate the crop provides up to 12 times as much income per acre as conventional farming, and there is violent local resistance to eradication.”
The following year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that opium production had doubled since 2005, raising crop estimates to nearly 93 percent of world supply.
“‘The results are very bad, terrifyingly bad, because cultivation has increased by 17% to an historic level,’ said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the Office on Drugs and Crime,” in a BBC report. “No other country beside China in the 19th Century ever had such a large amount of land dedicated to illegal activities.”
Costa told Reuters on Saturday that U.S. opium eradication efforts had been a “sad joke” and a waste of lives, all to eliminate approximately three percent of the county’s production volume.
Officials in President Barack Obama’s administration say they want to emphasize alternative crops and avoid aggressive eradication operations that could alienate Afghans.