Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, 1994-2017 (Hectares). Sources: MCN/UNODC opium surveys 1994-2017. The vertical lines represent the upper and lower bounds of the 95 percent confidence interval. Graphic: UNODC

By Will Porter and Kyle Anzalone
7 March 2018

(Consortium News) – In Afghanistan, the world’s most powerful military is threatened by a small, pink flower.

Despite an escalation of the Afghan conflict under the Trump administration, a record opium crop, coupled with steady Taliban gains, foretell bitter fighting in the coming months for American forces and the Afghans stationed alongside them.

“Record-high opium production is but one indication of how badly U.S. efforts have failed and are continuing to fail,” said Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University and author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East. “It is both a major source of Taliban funding and an indication of how little control the Afghan government is able to exert.”

In November, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime released its annual Afghanistan Opium Survey. According to the report, 2017’s opium crop, estimated at 9,000 tons, marks an 87 percent increase from the previous year.

The record crop has left the Taliban flush with cash it will use to finance military operations, the wages of fighters, as well as arms purchases.

As the area under cultivation in Taliban territory grows, “we can conclude that more funds flow to the Taliban,” said Gretchen Peters, former ABC News foreign correspondent and an expert on the Afghan opium trade.

While many have enjoyed the plant’s small dark seeds on their bagels, at maturity poppies produce seed pods which contain opium, a sticky sap that is drained from the pods and dried. Opium’s alkaloids can be extracted and altered to produce a wide range of opioid narcotics, including morphine and heroin.

Over the last decade Afghanistan has been the world’s top producer and exporter of raw opium and heroin, in some years supplying much of the entire global heroin market. […]

The lion’s share of last year’s record opium crop was cultivated in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan, near the Afghan-Pakistan border. This virtually ungoverned tribal territory has furnished the Taliban with a place of refuge since the American invasion in 2001, and serves as a base of operations for the Taliban’s activities.

“[The Taliban] receive much of their funding from the narcotics trafficking that occurs out of Helmand,” U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in a press briefing last year. “Helmand produces a significant amount of the opium globally that turns into heroin and … this provides about 60 percent of the Taliban funding.”

From its southern stronghold near the Af-Pak border, the Taliban has managed to launch attacks and capture or contest nearly 45 percent of Afghanistan, painting a dismal picture for American military objectives in the country.

This year’s unprecedented poppy harvest only serves to darken that image, particularly for the upcoming Spring Offensive. [more]

Record Afghan Opium Crop Signals Violent Year for U.S. Forces


  1. Anonymous said...

    Wow. Pure propaganda. "In Afghanistan, the world’s most powerful military is threatened by a small, pink flower." Yeah, right. We've all see the videos of US troops PROTECTING opium fields.

    Moreover, in regards to the implied assumptions in this silly article, what does the US military have to do with opium production in a foreign country? If that was really an issue, why haven't we invaded Thailand? Burma?

    The stupid drug war has cost Americans a trillion dollars. The Taliban is trading opium for guns and bombs. Supplied by both the Russians AND the Americans (who want the drugs and look the other way). Both sides win. The endless wars continue, defense (offense) contractors get paid to produce more guns, smugglers get paid and the endless war on drugs is still funded. It's a win-win for all the participants.

    The US government (and the US military) are drug dealers, just like the farmers who are growing coca leaves or poppy plants.  


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