In one year, Afghanistan produces enough poppies to satisfy 92% of the world’s demand for opium and heroin, according to the UNODC. The U.S. and United Nations reports that the Taliban pays up to $500 million a year for farmers to produce and smuggle opium out of the country. The illicit production of this crop provides the money that the Taliban uses to fight the United States, the legitimate Afghan government, and its allies.
Insurgent fighters are paid more than twice what Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and Afghan National Police (ANP) are paid. Plus, the Taliban outsources IED detonation and rocket attacks. Indigent villagers are paid up to $200 US to set off an IED against American troops, plus extra for any troops that are killed. For a family that earns an average of $300 per year, it’s hard to resist. Poppy cultivation is just another form of earning money for these civilians, and while a labor intensive crop, the average farmer earns $6500 producing opium, and is able to provide jobs for other villagers and students throughout the summer months.
What do you do? If I were in the same situation, I would think about my family, supporting and providing for them, perhaps making enough to send my kids to school, or even to another country. For sure, many of us would be producing opium in the same circumstances. However, it causes massive problems. Up to %30 of new recruits for the ANA and ANP are turned down because of opium addiction. The money from exporting opium and producing heroin goes directly to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and it’s significant.
The world market for heroin alone is about $65 billion a year.
The center of Afghanistan’s poppy cultivation? Helmand province, where 9,000 more Marines are scheduled to deploy before Christmas as part of President Obama’s new war plan. The Obama administration feels that previous narcotics counter-measures, which focused on eradication, burning of crops, drove many farmers and influential tribal leaders into supporting the insurgency. Now, the U.S and Britain have taken a more indirect approach aimed at interdicting smugglers on routes into Pakistan and Iran.
The Afghan government is sponsoring a program aimed at farmers to produce other crops, especially wheat. The U.S. and British governments are underwriting and subsidizing the program. In the Nawa district of Helmand province, an estimated 4,800 farmers are estimated to take part in the program where they will receive seed and fertilizer at a highly discounted price.
The U.S. military believes that a town called Nawa, in Helmand as well, has become an epicenter of narco-trafficking and insurgency. The surge is aimed at dismantling the entire narco-terrorist system in helmand province, as well as disrupting and destroying Taliban influence in the area. With Nawa out of the picture, opium cultivation will become extremely less profitable.
These are not bad people, they are just like us. In hard times, they strive to support their family, and unfortunately, they are supporting the Taliban, the extremists, and the insurgency, not because they support the ideology, but because it’s their only option.