After $7.6 Billion, U.S. Drug War In Afghanistan A Stunning Failure

By McCarton Ackerman 10/23/14

A new report shows that Afghan farmers produced a record amount of opium last year.

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The drug war in Afghanistan has proven to be a massive failure, as Afghan farmers produced record numbers of opium crops last year despite the U.S. spending $7.6 billion to fight them.

A new report released this week by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction shows that Afghan farmers produced a record 209,000 hectares of opium poppies last year, up from 193,000 hectares in 2007. Much of the rise in this production has to do with areas once declared “poppy-free” by the U.N. now producing mass amounts of it. Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan was once given this title by the U.N. in 2008, but their opium poppy production increased fourfold between 2012-13.

"The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts,” concluded the report. "Given the severity of the opium problem and its potential to undermine U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, I strongly suggest that your departments consider the trends in opium cultivation and the effectiveness of past counternarcotics efforts when planning future initiatives."

Although the State Department called the findings “disappointing,” they were unwilling to accept responsibility for the new figures. Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense, wrote to the inspector general, blamed the failure to stamp out opium poppy production on a lack of support from the Afghan government. He said that "poverty, corruption, the terrorism nexus to the narcotics trade, and access to alternative livelihood opportunities that provide an equal or greater profit than poppy cultivation are all contributors to the Afghan drug problem."

Afghanistan is responsible for 90% of the world’s opium, while also struggling with their own drug abuse problems. Between 2005 and 2009, the number of Afghans using heroin and other opiates doubled to 1.6 million. With less than 28,000 beds in treatment centers throughout the country, desperate families have turned to extreme measures. At the 300-year-old Mia Ali Baba shrine in Jalalabad, patients are chained with other inmates in a small cell for up to 40 days at a time and without any form of real medical treatment.

In addition to living in squalid conditions without windows and no access to showers, talking is forbidden and men may only go outside, use a proper toilet, or pray if the staff deems that their health has improved.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.