U.S. Failed to Stop a Record High Afghan Opium Crop
Policy + Politics

U.S. Failed to Stop a Record High Afghan Opium Crop

REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The U.S. has spent $7.5 billion on counternarcotic programs in Afghanistan. The result? Record high opium-poppy production.

A report to Congress Wednesday from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction detailed a slew of shortcomings in U.S. and Afghan government efforts to move farmers away from the lucrative drug trade. The report cites figures from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimating that opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan this year will reach an all-time high, jumping 36 percent from just two years ago.

On the decline are seizures of opium and heroin in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, the report said. The amount seized was equal to about 1 percent of annual opium production.

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“The United States’ drug control policy has shifted in recent years from eradication to interdiction and agricultural development assistance that aims to provide farmers with alternative livelihoods,” the report said. “The drug trade undermines the Afghan government because it funds the insurgency, fuels corruption, and distorts the economy.”

The findings are the latest in a string of on-the-ground reports showing U.S. reconstruction efforts have been unsuccessful on several fronts, despite more than $100 billion spent since 2002. The continued drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is likely to make development projects more challenging.

The Defense Department has cited the withdrawal as one reason for counternarcotic efforts. The Pentagon and the State Department have been the main recipients of U.S. funds to fight the Afghan drug trade.

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Afghanistan produces about 75 percent of the world’s illicit opium, which is estimated to account for 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. That share climbs to 14 percent factoring exports such as heroin and morphine.

The bumper crop isn’t just finding its way to overseas markets, though. Surveys by the UN have found that drug use in Afghanistan is also on the rise.

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