Afghan opium cultivation hits a record
FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press
Aug 16, 2006
KABUL, Afghanistan -
Opium cultivation in
has hit record levels — up by more than 40 percent
from 2005 — despite hundreds of millions in
counternarcotics money, Western officials told The
The increase could
have serious repercussions for an already grave
security situation, with drug lords joining the
Taliban-led fight against Afghan and international
anti-narcotics official in Kabul said about 370,650
acres of opium poppy was cultivated this season — up
from 257,000 acres in 2005 — citing their
preliminary crop projections. The previous record
was 323,700 acres in 2004, according to the U.N.
Office on Drugs and Crime.
"It is a significant
increase from last year ... unfortunately, it is a
record year," said a senior U.S. government official
based in Kabul, who like the other Western officials
would speak only on condition of anonymity because
of the sensitive topic.
Final figures, and an
estimate of the yield of opium resin from the
poppies, will be clear only when the U.N. agency
completes its assessment of the crop, based on
satellite imagery and ground surveys. Its report is
due in September.
The U.N. reported
last year that Afghanistan produced an estimated
4,500 tons of opium — enough to make 450 tons of
heroin — nearly 90 percent of world supply.
preliminary findings indicate a failure in attempts
to eradicate poppy cultivation and continuing
corruption among provincial officials and police —
problems acknowledged by President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai told Fortune
magazine in a recent interview that "lots of people"
in his administration profited from the narcotics
trade and that he had underestimated the difficulty
of eradicating opium production.
The U.N. Office on
Drugs and Crime estimate that opium accounted for 52
percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product in
"Now what they have
is a narco-economy. If they do not get corruption
sorted they can slip into being a narco-state," the
U.S. official warned.
Opium cultivation has
surged since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001.
The former regime enforced an effective ban on poppy
growing by threatening to jail farmers — virtually
eradicating the crop in 2000.
But Afghan and
Western counternarcotics officials say Taliban-led
militants are now implicated in the drug trade,
encouraging poppy cultivation and using the proceeds
to help fund their insurgency.
"(That) kind of
revenue from that kind of crop aids and abets the
enemy," Chief Master Sgt. Curtis L. Brownhill, a
senior adviser to the head of the U.S. Central
Command, during a recent visit to Afghanistan. "They
count on having that sort of resource and money."
Afghanistan has seen
its deadliest bout of fighting this year since
U.S.-backed forces toppled the Taliban for harboring
Osama bin Laden.
Officials believe the insurgency, most vicious in
the south — Afghanistan's main poppy belt — includes
die-hard Taliban, warlords and drug lords and
Fears of fanning the
insurgency has constrained efforts to destroy the
poppy crops of impoverished farmers — particularly
in Helmand, where the area being cultivated for
poppies has increased most sharply. The province now
accounts for more than 40 percent of the poppy
"We know that if we
start eradicating the whole surface of poppy
cultivation in Helmand, we will increase the
activity of the insurgency and increase the number
of insurgents," said Tom Koenigs, the top U.N.
official in Afghanistan.
He said the
international community needs to provide alternative
livelihoods for farmers, but warned against
expecting quick results. "The problem has increased,
and the remedy has to adjust," he told reporters
Since the fall of the
Taliban, the international community, led by the
U.S. and Britain, has invested hundreds of millions
of dollars to combat the drugs trade.
There have been some
successes. Nangahar province, with the help of a
strong governor and police chief, reduced opium
output by 96 percent in 2005. Since March, anti-drug
police units have raided 10 drug labs throughout the
country, seizing 2,700 pounds of heroin and nearly
1,763 pounds of opium.
Next week, the Afghan
government will present a wide-ranging anti-drugs
strategy. Officials are moving to amend laws, train
judges and prosecutors, build high security prisons
and establish special courts for drug barons and
senior drug smugglers.
This year's increased
poppy cultivation follows a 21 percent drop the
previous year, suggesting the government has not
followed through on warnings to farmers against
planting poppies. Although 37,065 acres of poppies
were eradicated this year, according to the Ministry
for Counternarcotics, a campaign by police to
destroy crops fell short of expectation.
Gen. Khodaidad, a top
official at the ministry, said virtually all
cultivated land in Helmand — including
government-owned land — has been planted with opium
"We expected a large
number (crop) this year but Helmand unfortunately
exceeded even our predictions," the U.S. official