The chaotic and disastrous pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan which left untold numbers of Americans behind, and resulted in the murder of 13 U.S. Marines, was not only unprecedented and humiliating, but very puzzling.
Why did President Joe Biden suddenly abandon the plan to draw-down our troops, and seemingly begin accepting orders from the Taliban, leaving American contractors stranded, to fend for themselves against the Taliban?
Was it because the Taliban changed their policy on opium production?
In August 2021, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid stated that they would be returning to a no-tolerance policy for the cultivation of the poppies and opium production.
However, in November, Mujahid contradicted himself, stating in an interview that Afghans were facing “an economic crisis, and stopping people from their only means of income is not a good idea,” The Business Standard reported.
Since the U.S. pullout, the Taliban has not begun to eradicate opium production within Afghanistan.
In 2000, the Taliban banned opium production in Afghanistan, making it illegal to grow poppies. Any farmer caught cultivating the cash crop would be severely punished, usually by death. By the middle of 2001, there was basically no opium produced in Afghanistan, though that nation ordinarily led the world in production of the drug. However, since the start of the U.S. led invasion, the poppy fields began growing again and the opium trade soon began to flourish as never before.
The Taliban relied upon opium sales to finance their operations until July 2000. It was then that the regime’s leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, issued a ban on the drug trade, because he claimed that it conflicted with Islamic law. Less than a year later, a U.N. delegation visited the areas of the country where poppies were traditionally grown and found nothing.
At the time, the former head of the U.N. Drug Control Program, Antonio Maria Costa, said "There are no poppies. It’s amazing."
By January 2002, the U.S. military had the Taliban on the run and the poppy fields had returned in earnest. At the same time, the U.S. and NATO nations signed a worldwide ban on opium production.
The U.N. released a report on the return of the Afghan opium trade, which noted:
Afghanistan has been the main source of illicit opium: 70 percent of global illicit opium production in 2000 and up to 90 percent of heroin in European drug markets originated from Afghanistan.
There are reliable indications that opium cultivation has resumed since October 2001 in some areas (such as the southern provinces Uruzgan, Helmand, Nangarhar, and Kandahar), following the effective implementation of the Taliban ban on cultivation in 2001, not only because of the breakdown in law and order, but also because the farmers are desperate to find a means of survival following the prolonged drought.
Despite the Bush administration's claims at the time that the international drug trade helped finance terrorism, a blind eye was turned to the activities of the Afghan warlords and the Pashtun mafia. The U.S. and our NATO partners ignored the re-introduction of the poppy crops and allowed opium production to flourish. In 2007, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime released a report which found that during 2006, opium production increased by 50 percent from the previous year.
Afghanistan produced a record of 6,700 metric tons in 2006, and was responsible for 92 percent of the world’s opium production. This rise corresponded with the dramatic fall of Southeast Asia’s opium production, which, in contrast, only produced 370 metric tons that same year.
In the past, it has been reported that the CIA is involved in Afghanistan’s opium production, or at least in protecting it.
In March 2002, a U.S. foreign intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, reminded a reporter with NewsMax.com of the CIA’s record of involvement with the international drug trade.
The official said:
The CIA did almost the identical thing during the Vietnam War, which had catastrophic consequences — the increase in the heroin trade in the U.S. beginning in the 1970s is directly attributable to the CIA. The CIA has been complicit in the global drug trade for years, so I guess they just want to carry on their favorite business. The sole reason why organized crime groups and terrorists have the power that they do is all because of drug trafficking. Like the old saying, ‘those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.’
While the U.S. government always claimed to be making strides in the eradication of Afghanistan’s opium fields, the United Nations reported that only 5,351 hectares of opium were eradicated in 2009, less than 4 percent of the amount planted. In 2010, the amount of land used for poppy cultivation was 123,000 hectares, with the amount reportedly eradicated, unchanged from 2009.
By the end of 2012, 154,000 hectares were being devoted to the poppy crop.
Though Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world’s opium supply, a mere two percent of the drug is actually seized within that country’s borders.
In fact, a 2013 New York Times article stated:
“This country is on its way to becoming the world’s first true narco-state,” said one international law enforcement official, who did not want to be quoted criticizing the Afghan government. “The opium trade is a much bigger part of the economy already than narcotics ever were in Bolivia or Colombia.”
But Mirwais Yasini, a former head of counternarcotics for the Afghan government and now a prominent member of Parliament, said, “I wouldn’t go that far.“But if it goes on like this in the future, I am worried about that happening,” he said.
Mr. Yasini said eradication efforts had been countered by insecurity, compounded by corruption at local, provincial, and national levels. “I don’t see anything tangible that has been done,” he said. “There is no meaningful crop substitution and no effective enforcement.”
The United Nations has estimated in the past that opium trafficking makes up 15 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, a figure that, by 2021, is estimated to have grown to 60 percent of the Taliban’s income.
In fact, in addition to the United Nations taking notice of the 'American Effect,' the leadership of Russia has outright accused our government of actively trafficking in Afghan opium…
In February 2008, The Center for Research on Globalization reported:
The U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO] forces in the country have not only failed to eliminate the terrorist threat from the Taliban, but also presided over a spectacular rise in opium production. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Afghanistan was on the brink of becoming a ‘narco state.’
Narco business has emerged as virtually the only economy of Afghanistan and is valued at some $10 billion a year. Opium trade is estimated by the U.N. to be equivalent to 53 per cent of the country’s official economy and is helping to finance the Taliban.
Unfortunately, they [NATO] are doing nothing to reduce the narcotic threat from Afghanistan even a tiny bit,” Putin angrily remarked three years ago. He accused the coalition forces of “sitting back and watching caravans haul drugs across Afghanistan to the former Soviet Union and Europe.” As time went by, Russian suspicions regarding the U.S. role in the rise of a narco state in Afghanistan grew deeper, especially after reports from Iraq said that the cultivation of opium poppies was spreading rapidly there too.
“The Americans are working hard to keep narco business flourishing in both countries,” says Mikhail Khazin, president of the consultancy firm Niakon.
“They consistently destroy the local infrastructure, pushing the local population to look for illegal means of subsistence. And the CIA provides protection to drug trafficking.”
Afghanistan opium production amounts over the last several years follows (amounts are listed in metric tons), according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes:
2012: 3,700 tons
2013: 5,500 tons
2014: 6,400 tons
2015: 3,300 tons
2016: 4,800 tons
2017: 9,000 tons
2018: 6,400 tons
2019: NOT AVAILABLE
2020: 6,300 tons
2021: 6,800 tons
For 20 years, Afghanistan could fairly be described as a 'narco-state,' and the role that the U.S. federal government has played in that nation’s illicit evolution simply cannot be ignored.
At this time, we can only gather available information, speculate and continue to investigate this government’s involvement with the Afghanistan opium trade. Perhaps, a future generation will uncover the specifics and the names of those who profited from this deadly trade.
Since October 7, 2001, a total of 2,461 U.S. troops and civilian employees have been killed in Afghanistan, while 20,761 have been wounded in action, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.