Opium: The Other Failed US War in Afghanistan

US Continues to Throw Money at Soaring Production With Little Effect

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.

12 years into this war, and with $7.5 billion spent, the latest figures (PDF) from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) show remarkable consistency, as the US continues to throw money and manpower at poppy eradication and appears to have no real impact on cultivation or export.

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. 2014 still has most of the brutality, but none of the effectiveness, and the US seems unable to even remotely replicate the Taliban’s “success” on this front.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of Antiwar.com.