Despite $8.7 Billion Spent on Afghan Drug War, More Drugs Than Ever

SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, released a report yesterday on the state of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The report is over 200 pages and large segments of it address the failure of our drug strategy there, the lack of a revised counter-narcotics plan, and the increased participation of the U.S. in Afghan bombing efforts.

The United States has appropriated $8.7 billion for counternarcotics efforts since 2002, but more Afghan land was under opium-poppy cultivation in 2017 than ever before. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, cultivation levels increased 63% from the previous year to 328,000 hectares. Potential opium production levels increased 87% to 9,000 tons from 2016. Eradication levels also increased from the prior year’s results, but the 750 hectares eradicated barely registered against the cultivation figure.


The U.S. Military has been assisting Afghanistan in its counter-drug bombing efforts.

Under new authorities provided in the Administration’s new South Asia strategy, the U.S. military launched a campaign targeting Taliban financial networks and revenue streams. According to DOD, since the launch of the campaign in November (2017), 28 narcotics labs have been destroyed, denying over $101 million in estimated revenue to drug-trafficking organizations and over $20 million to the Taliban.

Afghan forces led air strikes with their A-29 attack planes, with support from U.S. Air Force aircraft such as B-52 bombers and F/A-18 and F-22 fighters.

In another section, the report says:

Under new authorities given by the Trump Administration to the U.S. military in its fight against insurgent and terrorist organizations, United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), supporting the Afghan air force, targeted drug labs for the first time this quarter using B-52 bombers and other aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor fighter/ground-attack jet.

From November through December 13, 2017, 25 drug labs have been destroyed. According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), that equates to nearly $80 million of drug money eliminated and $16 million of direct revenue being denied to the Taliban.

...Between October 1 and December 18, 2017, Afghan law-enforcement personnel conducted 17 interdiction operations, four of which were combined U.S.-Afghan operations. Seizures included over 6,400 kilograms (kg) of opium, 145 kg of heroin, 85 kg of hashish, and 14 kg of precursor chemicals..

What is the strategy exactly? No one knows:

The State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) failed to provide a response to SIGAR’s request for an update on the counternarcotics strategy for Afghanistan. SIGAR has previously reported on the slow progress the U.S. government has made toward revising its counternarcotics strategy. The approval of a new U.S. counternarcotics strategy for Afghanistan has been on hold since 2015.

Afghanistan seems to have a drug problem:

In addition to exporting opiates, Afghanistan suffers from widespread illegal drug use. A U.S.-funded 2015 survey estimated approximately 11% of
the population would test positive for drugs. Drug use among men, women and children is among the highest documented worldwide.

The report also discusses the astronomical cost of the bombing missions against drug labs. What good is it doing?

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) released its annual country opium survey in November 2017. Cultivation increased 63% from 201,000 hectares in 2016 to 328,000 hectares, while production increased 87% from 4,800 to 9,000 tons.(One hectare is roughly 2.5 acres. The total area under opium cultivation approaches the size of Rhode Island.)

All major poppy-growing provinces exhibited strong increases in cultivation. In Helmand, cultivation increased 79%, accounting for nearly half of the total national increase. Levels in Balkh increased by 10,000

The U.S. war in Afghanistan has been on the uptick this year.

According to the United States Air Force Central Command Combined Air Operations Center (AFCENT), the United States dropped 653 munitions against Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) targets in October 2017, the most since recording began in 2012, and a more than three-fold increase since October 2016. The total amount of weapons released in Afghanistan by the U.S. Air Force in 2017 was 4,361.

Separately, according to the Department of Defense (DOD) U.S. special operations forces conducted 2,175 ground operations and 261 air strikes from June 1 to November 24, 2017, in support of the U.S. counterterrorism mission and the advising mission for the ANASOC. For comparison, roughly nine times the number of munitions AFCENT reported have been dropped against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (roughly 39,500 this year). General Nicholson said in November that more air resources will move to Afghanistan as the enemy is defeated in Iraq.

According to a new report in the BBC , the Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan.

The BBC study shows the Taliban are now in full control of 14 districts (that's 4% of the country) and have an active and open physical presence in a further 263 (66%), significantly higher than previous estimates of Taliban strength.

ISIS strength is gaining in Afghanistan, but it still is far less powerful than the Taliban.

Local people and officials the BBC spoke to said IS now has a presence in 30 districts - not just in the east but also in places like Khanabad and Kohistanat in the north.

The group is fighting both the Afghan military and the Taliban for territorial control.

During 2017 the number of attacks attributed to the group increased, with many targeting urban centres and often Shia Muslims in sectarian attacks almost never seen before in Afghanistan's 40-year conflict. IS does not fully control any district at present.

However, the DOD has been refusing to release data . But it now says the Taliban has about 60,0000 fighters in Afghanistan. Still the lack of transparency is worrisome.

In minor related news, it seems the U.S./Afghan counter-narcotics efforts are being aided by Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), which today released photos of it burning confiscated drugs.

The war in Afghanistan and war against drugs are a failure. And there appears to be no end in sight to the cost of these futile wars, both in money and lives.

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