Academic journal article Independent Review

The War on Drugs in Afghanistan: Another Failed Experiment with Interdiction

Academic journal article Independent Review

The War on Drugs in Afghanistan: Another Failed Experiment with Interdiction

Article excerpt

U.S. and international leaders have repeatedly asserted that winning the war on drugs in Afghanistan is necessary for winning the war on terror. According to Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Robert Charles, "[C]utting down the opium supply is central to establishing a secure and stable democracy, as well as winning the global war on terrorism" (2004). Former president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai clearly stated the perceived connection between antidrug efforts and the war on terror in his inaugural address: "[I]llicit drugs is [sic] another serious threat that is directly intertwined with terrorism.... The government has the duty to decisively fight against the cultivation, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs.... We seriously ask for close coordination within the international community, as well as cooperation from the international community with the Government of Afghanistan to fight illicit drugs" (2009). Following this line of reasoning, coalition forces have worked closely with the new Afghan government to eradicate opium production since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. The underlying logic of this strategy seems to make sense--effectively eradicating illicit drugs will eliminate a key revenue source for terrorist groups. This reduction in resources will limit the growth and capabilities of groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban that threaten the stability and future of Afghanistan (see Mili 2007; Peters 2009).

In 2002, less than a year after the start of the U.S. invasion, Afghanistan produced more than three-quarters of the world's opium (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2002, 4, and 2003b, 15). Since that time, the United States has spent $8.4 billion on a variety of counternarcotics initiatives (Sopko 2016, 12). Further, the U.S. government "exported" many elements of its domestic drug-interdiction efforts to help fight the Afghan drug war. For example, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) opened thirteen offices in Afghanistan in 2003. By 2013, ninety-five offices were in operation. Over that same time period, the DEA increased its operating budget for its Afghanistan initiative by $6 million per year (Beith 2013).

More than a decade has passed since the United States launched its ambitious wars on drugs and terror in Afghanistan. The results are sobering, to say the least, as illustrated by figure 1, which shows the growth of the area under opium poppy production in the postinvasion period (marked by the bold vertical line). (1)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has nearly tripled, from 76,000 hectares in 2002 to a record 209,000 hectares (1 hectare is about 2.5 acres) in 2013, with the majority of production occurring in southern provinces of the country-- namely, Helmand and Kandahar Provinces (UNODC 2013, 5). Afghanistan now produces more than 80 percent of the world's illicit opium (UNODC 2014, 21), with revenues topping $4 billion annually (UNODC 2007a, iii). (2) As opposed to observing a shift in the Afghan economy away from opium and toward alternative, legal products, UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov noted that Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a "fully-fledged narco-state" (qtd. in Dahl 2013).

The war on terror has produced similarly abysmal results. Examining the number of terror attacks since 2001 in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, researchers found that the number of terrorist attacks each year more than quadrupled in the decade following the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. Afghanistan and Pakistan accounted for more than 50 percent of all terror fatalities. Although some eighty-five countries experienced acts of terror in 2012, Afghanistan's Taliban was by far the deadliest group that year--launching some 525 separate attacks and killing 1,842 people (Burke 2013). To this day, it remains among the world's most deadly terror groups. …

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