Opium: The Other Failed US War in Afghanistan

By Jason Ditz

There are plenty of failures to focus on in Afghanistan, but while they usually center around the calamitous US military occupation, another US war in the country, the “war on drugs” continues apace, with similarly feckless results.

17 years into this war, and billions spent we still can’t stop a bunch of goat herders with the best trained, bet equipped  military in the world. Something smells really fishy here.

2013 saw a record 2,090 square km of Afghanistan used for poppy cultivation, and the grand US eradication program managed to destroy roughly 70 of them, so roughly 3.5% of the overall total.

That’s not even slowing them down, as poppy production in 2012 was 1,540 square km, so the US eradication isn’t even putting a meaningful dent in the rate of growth of the cultivation, one of the few viable crops for many Afghan farmers.

UN estimates put the value of the crop at around $4 billion by the time it leaves the country, with farmers receiving around $1 billion of that and the rest going to the assorted bribes needed to keep the crop moving. $4 billion amounts to about 20% of Afghanistan’s nominal GDP.

Absent in this is another point about the main failing war in Afghanistan. Production of opium poppies in Afghanistan, though never this high in modern history, was actually virtually nil in 2001, when the Taliban was being feted by DC drug warriors for its brutally effective crackdown on cultivation. 2018 has all of the brutality, but none of the effectiveness, and the US seems unable to even remotely replicate the Taliban’s “success” on this front.

Afghan Opium Production Reaches Record High

Last year, poppies were cultivated on 201,000 hectares, yielding 4,700 tons of opium, up 46 percent from 2015. Sources told VOA’s Pashto service more than 10,000 tons of opium were produced this year. Opium then can be refined into heroin.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that opium accounted for some 16 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product last year, including more than two-thirds of the entire agricultural sector. In addition to fueling insecurity, violence and insurgency, the drug production is discouraging private and public investment, a UNODC report said.

Afghanistan’s opium production plunged in 2001 after the Taliban-led government banned it. But it jumped back to pre-ban levels – and higher – after the U.S. led invasion of the country late that year. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars trying to quell the problem by encouraging farmers to raise other crops.

It’s the opium, stupid: ‘Afghan surge guarantees CIA black-ops budget boost’

The CIA is also overjoyed because its black-ops budget – which is tied to the exponential growth of opium production in Afghanistan – is now secured possibly for another 20-50 years, claims Mike Raddie, co-editor of online site BSNews.

The announcement on US strategy in Afghanistan comes as Donald Trump shakes up his inner circle: chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has become the latest to head for the exit.

The US military said that in a matter of days additional US troops could be deployed to Afghanistan, following President Trump’s speech on a new strategy for the region.

The first new deployments of American military personnel will happen “pretty quickly,” Gen. Joseph Votel told reporters on Tuesday, as quoted by AP.

Obviously, there is no end, and that suits the neocon generals perfectly well. His policy flip-flop maybe, this is in the tradition of all US presidents going back to Jimmy Carter in 1979. They have all intervened and interfered with the running of Afghanistan, whether it be overtly or covertly, whether it is a full-fledged intervention, military attack or arming jihadist groups like the mujaheddin. So, it is not a surprise to me. The neocons and the military industrial establishment are overjoyed about this because it means that their baby – the war in Afghanistan, that unwinnable 16-year war in Afghanistan – will continue and it may continue for decades.

The CIA is also overjoyed because its black-ops budget – which is tied obviously to the exponential growth of opium production in Afghanistan, which is fueling the heroin epidemic across the West – that is now secured for another possibly 20-50 years. He has jumped straight back into the swamp. Far from clearing it, he has jumped into this swamp, and people now can see his true colors. If they couldn’t already after the indiscriminate bombing of Syria recently.

This is not surprising to me. It is not going to win; it is not going to succeed at all. If there is an insurgency in Afghanistan at the moment, it is because of the military occupation. We should remember that NATO forces never left there – whether it be President Bush or President Obama – this is a continuation of long-held policy.

ISIS has been pushed out of Syria and pushed out of Iraq. They need somewhere to go because as a proxy army they suit the Pentagon perfectly well, and they are used extensively throughout the world. And if you look back in past conflicts – not only to fight the Soviet Empire in Afghanistan – but they were deployed over in the Balkans, and they have been deployed recently in places as far as Indonesia. So, having a proxy army that you can call upon is really useful. They are going to need some kind of place somewhere in a country that doesn’t have much stability. So, Afghanistan is the likely place. That has been the place since 1979 and throughout the 1980s.

I think things are going to get worse for the people of Afghanistan, especially civilians. We are going to see far more casualties there. Who knows how many have been killed in the last 16 years. Things are not going to improve at all for the civilians of Afghanistan. I think the country, in general, is going to continue to spiral out of control.

One part of this policy that kind of also makes sense with regards to the corporate establishment over America and the West in general, is that it is part of a wider economic war against Russia, Iran, and China. China was doing great economic ties with countries in Northern Africa and also in Afghanistan. That has been put to an end because of the interventions and the regime change operations in North Africa like Libya; all the economic ties that China was developing with Afghanistan are now all at risk. The one trillion dollar worth of rich mineral resources under the ground in Afghanistan probably isn’t going to get developed, and it isn’t going to benefit the people of the country. That is all part of the US strategy toward its perceived enemies.

Washington’s Hidden Agenda: Restore the Drug Trade The Spoils of War: Afghanistan’s Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade

Washington’s Hidden Agenda: Restore the Drug Trade

In the wake of the 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan, the British government of Tony Blair was entrusted by the G-8 Group of leading industrial nations to carry out a drug eradication program, which would, in theory, allow Afghan farmers to switch out of poppy cultivation into alternative crops. The British were working out of Kabul in close liaison with the US DEA’s “Operation Containment”.

The UK sponsored crop eradication program is an obvious smokescreen. Since October 2001, opium poppy cultivation has skyrocketed. The presence of occupation forces in Afghanistan did not result in the eradication of poppy cultivation. Quite the opposite.

Heroin is a multibillion dollar business supported by powerful interests, which requires a steady and secure commodity flow. One of the “hidden” objectives of the war was precisely to restore the CIA sponsored drug trade to its historical levels and exert direct control over the drug routes.

Immediately following the October 2001 invasion, opium markets were restored. Opium prices spiraled. By early 2002, the opium price (in dollars/kg) was almost 10 times higher than in 2000.

In 2001, under the Taliban opiate production stood at 185 tons, increasing to 3400 tons in 2002 under the US sponsored puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai.

U.S. officials had refused to investigate charges of heroin dealing by its Afghan allies because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there. In 1995, the former CIA director of the Afghan operation, Charles Cogan, admitted the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold War. ‘Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn’t really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade,’ I don’t think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout. There was fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.’”(McCoy, op cit)

Narcotics: Second to Oil and the Arms Trade

The revenues generated from the CIA sponsored Afghan drug trade are sizeable. The Afghan trade in opiates constitutes a large share of the worldwide annual turnover of narcotics, which was estimated by the United Nations to be of the order of $400-500 billion. (Douglas Keh, Drug Money in a Changing World, Technical document No. 4, 1998, Vienna UNDCP, p. 4. See also United Nations Drug Control Program, Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 1999, E/INCB/1999/1 United Nations, Vienna 1999, p. 49-51, and Richard Lapper, UN Fears Growth of Heroin Trade, Financial Times, 24 February 2000). At the time these UN figures were first brought out (1994), the (estimated) global trade in drugs was of the same order of magnitude as the global trade in oil.

The IMF estimated global money laundering to be between 590 billion and 1.5 trillion dollars a year, representing 2-5 percent of global GDP. (Asian Banker, 15 August 2003). A large share of global money laundering as estimated by the IMF is linked to the trade in narcotics.

Based on recent figures (2003), drug trafficking constitutes “the third biggest global commodity in cash terms after oil and the arms trade.” (The Independent, 29 February 2004).

Moreover, the above figures including those on money laundering, confirm that the bulk of the revenues associated with the global trade in narcotics are not appropriated by terrorist groups and warlords, as suggested by the UNODC report.

There are powerful business and financial interests behind narcotics. From this standpoint, geopolitical and military control over the drug routes is as strategic as oil and oil pipelines.

However, what distinguishes narcotics from legal commodity trade is that narcotics constitutes a major source of wealth formation not only for organized crime but also for the US intelligence apparatus, which increasingly constitutes a powerful actor in the spheres of finance and banking.

In turn, the CIA, which protects the drug trade, has developed complex business and undercover links to major criminal syndicates involved in the drug trade.

In other words, intelligence agencies and powerful business syndicates allied with organized crime, are competing for the strategic control over the heroin routes. The multi-billion dollar revenues of narcotics are deposited in the Western banking system. Most of the large international banks together with their affiliates in the offshore banking havens launder large amounts of narco-dollars.

Afghanistan: CIA’s Shady History of Drug Trafficking

Afghanistan remains the longest military quagmire in US history. Aside from troops still occupying the country, thousands of private contractors are on the ground that the Pentagon can’t even account for.

The Centers for Disease Control warned of record-breaking numbers of heroin deaths in the United States. “Heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18–25 in the past decade,” the CDC reported.

In the same month, it was reported that opium production is stronger than ever in Afghanistan, which now produces 90 percent of the world’s supply of the plant that’s refined to create heroin. This rise in production would have been impossible prior to the U.S.-led invasion, and it comes despite some $8.4 billion spent in counternarcotics efforts by the U.S., specifically designated to wipe out opium production in Afghanistan.

The Taliban had successfully eradicated the opium crop in the Golden Crescent before the US invasion. Now, more than 90% of the world’s heroin comes from the war torn country. Despite the United States spending nearly $8 billion to fight the Afghan narcotics trade, the country is producing more opium than ever.

Immediately following the October 2001 invasion, opium markets were restored. By early 2002, the opium price (in dollars/kg) was almost 10 times higher than in 2000. In 2001, under the Taliban opiate production stood at 185 tons, increasing  to 3400 tons in 2002 under the US sponsored puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai.

After more than fourteen years of military occupation, Afghanistan’s opium trade isn’t just sustaining, it’s thriving more than ever before. According to a recent report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013 saw opium production surge to record highs:

“The harvest this May resulted in 5,500 metric tons of opium, 49 percent higher than last year and more than the combined output of the rest of the world.”

Wow, that’s a lot of opium – and a lot of money being made. Under the watchful eye of the U.S., opium use expanded to new parts of Afghanistan and growers now make use of modern, advanced agricultural technologies.

During the eighties, the CIA financially and logistically backed anti-communist contras in Nicaragua who also happened to be international drug traffickers. In the mid-1980s, Afghanistan produced about 20 percent of the world’s opium. Today it produces more than 80 percent.

Academi, better known by its former name, Blackwater earned $569 million from counternarcotics contracts in Afghanistan. The notorious company has been the biggest beneficiary of counternarcotics expenditure in the war-torn country.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s late half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was deeply involved in the heroin trade. Mr. Karzai has denied being involved in the drug trade.

There is no conclusive proof that the CIA is physically running opium out of Afghanistan. However, it’s hard to believe that a region under full US military occupation – with guard posts and surveillance drones monitoring the mountains of Tora Bora – aren’t able to track supply routes of opium exported from the country’s various poppy farms (you know, the ones the US military are guarding).

In today’s globalized world of rule-for-profit, one can’t discount the role that multinational corporations play in US foreign policy decisions either. Not only have oil companies and private military contractors made a killing off the occupation, big pharmaceutical companies, which collectively lobby over 250 million dollars annually to Congress, need opium latex to manufacture drugs for this pill happy nation.

Multinational corporations are in it for the long haul, despite how low public support is for the war. A little mentioned strategic pact has already been signed that will allow a US troop presence to remain in Afghanistan until 2024.

Clearly, this war is meant to be sustained.

Ghani: CIA promises to continue cash payments

Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani says he has received assurances from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s station chief in Kabul that it will continue delivering cash, as it has for the past decade, to his offices.

“Yes, we received cash from the CIA for the past 10 years. It was very useful, and we are very thankful for this aid,” the president said during a news conference in Kabul.

“Yesterday, I thanked the CIA’s chief in Kabul and I requested their continued help, and they promised that they will continue.”

Ghani’s comments follow last week’s report by The New York Times that the CIA has been dropping off shopping bags full of money every month or so for more than a decade to the offices of the Afghan president.

“This is not unusual,” he told reporters, adding that the money was spent by his office and the national security office for a variety of purposes, including paying salaries, helping the war wounded and providing scholarships.

Ghani dismissed questions about why such money, not in state coffers, was needed for what he described as government expenses.

“This is the choice of the American government,” he said.

Ghani’s statements on Saturday appeared to be meant to mollify a growing outcry over the revelation of the CIA payments, which has raised questions about whether the money undercut efforts to quell corruption in Afghanistan.

The United States has previously criticized what officials have described as rampant corruption within the Afghan government.

Nearly three years ago, reports surfaced that the CIA was making payments to a number of former President’s Karzai’s family members, even as his key adviser and a number of ministers were being investigated for corruption.

In the latest allegation of CIA payments in Afghanistan, the New York Times, which cited unnamed U.S., European and Afghan officials, reported that the cash payments ranged from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. It said the payments were used from everything from payoffs for lawmakers and warlord to paying for “informal negotiations.” The report did not say how much money had been provided.

As a matter of routine, the CIA does not comment on its operations. The agency did not return a call from CNN seeking comment.

Ghani also disputed claims that his office received cash from MI6, the British intelligence agency.

He acknowledged MI6 gave money to other organizations in Afghanistan, but he did not identify them. Source: CNN

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End the War on Drugs and De fund the DEA

Afghanistan supply’s about 90% of the worlds opium. We arrived in 2001. In the following nine years opium production has surged 700%. Recording all time record harvests beginning around 2010.

During the time opium production was being ramped up in Afghanistan, Mexico was retooling their ability to convert ever larger supply’s of opium into increasingly potent heroin and developing new infrastructure to transport it.

During the decade or so all this was going on in Afghanistan and Mexico, scripts here in America for Oxycontin, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone and the like were wildly available to any person claiming chronic pain. Nothing was done to confirm the claims of pain, sorta like the stated income, liar loans that set up the housing collapse. Basically scripts were available to almost anyone for the asking.

That all ended one day in 2011.

Almost overnight The Oxycontin and Fentanyl was turned into useless plastic and millions of scripts across the country were shut down with the exception of those few in truly chronic pain.

Simultaneously and amazingly as if by magic, that very day every city in America suddenly had a fresh two ton supply of high quality vary affordable heroin. In fact the prices have never been lower and the quality never higher.

They turned the greatest country in the world into a fuckin’ zoo. Fuck da police.

At the start of the ’60s over 80% of black households were two parent homes and it was also the early ’60’s when heroin started mysteriously flooding into black neighborhoods all across the nation. This was a time when blacks were routinely denied jobs or any way to support their families. In 1964 President Johnson and the Democrats declared “War on Poverty” suddenly plenty of cash and housing became available to poor families with children and it only had one rule (besides income). “No adult male (the father) is to live in the home of family receiving aid” This rule was vigorously enforced with random unannounced home inspections. They would go through your closets and drawers looking for any sign of a man (the father) living in the home. I know this, I lived it, I remember it, as if it were yesterday. This strange lady opening my drawers looking at my stuff and my mom freaking out if her boyfriend ever left something of his at the house. This went on for over a generation. Having more children was encouraged by having no limits on the number and increasing benefits for every additional child. Marriage for young women was discouraged by the simple fact you lose that safety net and it just became a way of life. Before all this the black family was a strong one, headed by men tempered by 300 years of slavery who demanded strict discipline and control.

Johnson and the Democrats managed to break the back of the black family in a generation. The results of blacks raised without a father being self-evident. They turned the greatest country in the world into a zoo. Fuck da police.

When I was growing up, I use to fight my brothers until I learned that’s a tactic, called ‘divide and conquer’. So then I fought the police until I learned that they are only pawns. Cops write tickets but politicians write the laws. So then I fought the government until I saw them taking orders from their campaign contributors, the corporations. So, now I fight CEOs, generals and robber barons. The corporate elite who bought the government and turned paradise into military waste. Welcome to the Underground Resistance.