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Afghanistan Poised to Become Narco-Criminal State

Despite $7 billion in U.S. aid, Afghanistan lacks the police, military, and governmental might to combat its massive heroin production.

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By Paul Gaita

01/17/14

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After 12 years and $7 billion in U.S. aid to control the production of opium in Afghanistan, a top official has declared that the country teeters on the brink of lawlessness as the drug trade reaches its highest level in history.

In testimony before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, John Sopko, who was appointed Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction by President Barack Obama, warned that efforts to rebuild the country are directly opposed by the skyrocketing opium trade. “More land in Afghanistan is under poppy cultivation today than it was when the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2002,” he said. A variety of factors are to blame for the rise in production, but fears about the 2014 withdrawal of many U.S. troops from the region are a significant reason, as is the high price of opium and a growing perception that Afghanistan’s police, military, and government officials lack the means to deal with the issue. As Sopko noted, the country’s military and law enforcement may also have a vested interest in allowing the opium trade to flourish. “There are already signs that elements within the Afghan security forces are reaching arrangements with rural communities to allow opium poppy cultivation, or even encouraging production,” he said.

With opium production generating almost $1 billion – or four percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product – and between $100 and $400 million of those profits used by the Taliban to fund their insurgency efforts, the growth of the Afghan opium industry poses a serious threat to the United States’ efforts within the region. Should this situation be left to continue, Sopko predicts that Afghanistan could become “a narco-criminal state. [With] absent effective counternarcotics programs and Afghan political will to seriously tackle this grave problem, that outcome may become a reality.”

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