In 2000 the Taliban had practically eliminated the Afghani poppy plantations that fed the world opium and heroin markets in days gone by. When the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, President George W. Bush missed his golden opportunity to advance his so-called “war on drugs” by ignoring what fields were left.
With millions of dollars in U.S. financial aid falling through slippery and corrupt fingers, and no one keeping account of it, the Afghan people fell further into poverty. With the “coalition” military focusing its efforts in the south, poor northern farmers in Badakshan began abandoning their wheat and vegetable crops. Many were unable to find promised jobs and out of desperation began growing poppies again in order to feed their families. So much was grown that summer in fact, that the heaps of emptied stalks were used for everything from firewood to roofing material.
While the Bush Administration lost interest and turned its attention and troops to Iraq, the Taliban, local warlords and the growing insurgent movement adapted. Instead of discouraging and suppressing the opium trade, the Taliban took control of it as a major potential source of its finances. As Bin Laden’s allies grew more successful, they began expanding in order to dominate the farms in the southern provinces too.
In early 2001 the opium trade was mere pocket change in the Afghanistan economy. If the U.S. led forces had wiped it out when they had their opportunity, little or no notice would’ve been paid to it. Very little effort by the American military presence would’ve been needed to maintain control over and to burn the poppy fields as they sprang up. The drug trade would’ve suffered a massive blow had President George Bush “stayed his course” and ordered poppy fields monitored across the country.
At the time of the U.S. led takeover it would’ve required only simple planning to locate what few poppy fields there were with surveillance flyovers and strafe the fields with incendiary devices or defoliation chemicals. As more time was wasted and opportunities bungled, more fields were planted to the point now where most world leaders agree that it’s out of control and hopeless to irradiate.
With the blessing of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, nearly 325,000 acres of farmland were converted to poppy cultivation by 2004. The harvest was estimated at 4,200 metric tons providing Al Qaeda and its allies with almost $3 billion dollars in only one year for their war chests. Money that, had Bush been paying attention, wouldn’t be currently used to fund terrorist attacks, the increasing insurgent movements and brazen assassinations of local government officials who didn’t cooperate.
For the years 2002, 2003 and 2004 rather than contribute military assistance to wipe out the ever enlarging cash crop in those poppy fields, the Bush administration and Republican-led congress instead contributed a mere $100 million dollars total over those three years. By 2005, the poppy crops had expanded to a volume too numerous and geographically vast to control. Throwing good money after already wasted and misspent financial help, the Republican administration elected to increase its assistance to a token 780 million in 2005. While that sounds like a lot, it isn’t compared to $4.5 billion since 2000 spent preventing cocaine from coming from Columbia.
The average local Afghan drug enforcement officer makes only $90 a month. The Taliban rakes in $900 a kilo in heroin. Al Qaeda with its allies, warlords and militias has been reinvesting their profits. Loans for seeds, fertilizer, tractors and equipment have made the largely destitute farmers financially dependent to the terrorist organization. Since the bulk of the farmer’s cash had to go back to paying for what was provided by Al Qaeda financial backers, almost all of those profits have gone straight back into Bin Laden’s pockets for terrorist acts against the U.S. and its unwary allies. Their investments have also expanded to equipping hundreds of labs across the country for cooking the opium into heroin.
By 2005, because of the shortsightedness of the Bush administration and its military allies, Afghanistan once again had become the leading opium producer, providing an estimated 87 percent of the available product worldwide. Bin Laden and his allies raked in $2.7 billion last year alone on heroin exports by harvesting a short-standing record of 4,600 tons of opium poppies. The entire of Afghanistan’s total gross domestic output was $5.2 billion, which means income from the Taliban’s fields accounted for 52 percent of it.
Bin Laden’s investments have now included corruption and/or ownership of local and provincial governments, police departments, drug enforcement officials, farmers, hundreds of heroin labs. He now controls his own worldwide distribution system via overland routes through Southern Russia, ocean routes through container shipments, and even brazenly through FedEx, Express Mail and Air Cargo shipments.
Today, so much Afghani/Taliban opium and heroin has flooded the world that the average price of a gram of heroin in Western Europe has tumbled from $251 a gram to just under $75! The result being that Columbian drug lords are becoming more aggressive in the U.S. as their prices are being grossly undercut because of an Asian flooding of their market share. Adding to South American frustration is the fact that the 2006 Afghan crop has yielded yet another new record of 6,100 tons of high-grade opium, which could produce 610 tons of heroin.
Afghanistan’s Helmand Province has been in the news lately because of all of the coalition deaths from increasingly dangerous insurgent attacks. This is explained by the fact that this year alone the Taliban-ruled region increased it’s poppy crop by 162 percent and because that one area alone accounted for 42 percent of the entire Afghan crop. The Taliban nearly owns five provinces lock, stock and barrel, particularly Helmand, Kandahar and Oruzgan in the south.
After five years of negligence their opium/heroin trade accounts for roughly more than half of Afghanistan’s economy. Had Bush not diverted world attention to Iraq and we’d stayed in Afghanistan full time, the opium/heroin trade would still be in disarray to this day.
Most Arabic countries understood grudgingly why the U.S. had invaded Afghanistan in revenge for 9/11. It was only after Bush’s foolhardy push into Iraq for apparently no reason that they could think of, that the Arab tide turned against us and Bin Laden found new and deadly allies..
The poppies have already been harvested for this year and are well into opium/heroin production; another bungled opportunity for the Bush administration. With potential billions about to go into the hands of the Taliban in the near future will the president finally see the light next year and take action?
This writer is not optimistic.