The U.S.’s $7 Billion War on Drugs Helped Grow Afghanistan’s Heroin Biz
Policy + Politics

The U.S.’s $7 Billion War on Drugs Helped Grow Afghanistan’s Heroin Biz

REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Instead of eradicating opium production in Afghanistan, the U.S. government’s massive $7.6 billion war on drugs in the war-torn country may actually be aiding the production of opium poppy—further boosting the illicit opium industry and fueling the heroin epidemic in the United States. 

Last week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued a report to Congress painting a very grim picture of the government’s largely ineffective, multi-billion dollar war on drugs in Afghanistan—noting that opium poppy cultivation in the country has now hit record levels. 

Related: How the U.S. Wasted $7.6 Billion to Stop Afghan Heroin Production 

Now, a new report issued by the federal watchdog today, drops an even bigger bombshell. 

SIGAR says a handful of the U.S. government’s big dollar programs intended to eradicate Afghanistan’s illicit opium industry, have actually helped finance poppy growth.


In one instance, auditors found that money that was supposed to go toward a $108 million program incentivizing Afghan provinces to reduce poppy growth with new infrastructure projects has actually been used to pay for the construction of irrigation systems that have helped cultivate poppy. 

In another example, auditors said that an $18.7 million program aimed at encouraging poppy growers to seek alternative sources of income – had also helped fund construction of irrigation systems.

Related: With Eyes on ISIS, America’s $104B in Afghanistan is Failing

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has exploded in the last few decades—it’s nearly tripled between 1994 and 2013, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The war-torn country now produces 90 percent of the world’s opium poppy and the illicit industry employs more people than the Afghan National Security Forces, The Washington Examiner notes. 

The growing problem of Afghan opium production has caused massive concern among lawmakers, experts and government officials. SIGAR repeatedly warns that a failure to address the issue and eradicate the drug problem in Afghanistan could completely undermine the U.S.’s overall reconstruction efforts in the region. 

"The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of [prior U.S. government and coalition] efforts," Inspector General John Sopko wrote in 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 counter narcotics efforts when planning future initiatives."

So far, the United States has poured more than $104 billion into rebuilding Afghanistan, but much of that money has been lost to waste, abuse and ineffective programs.

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: