WASHINGTON — U.S. counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan are in a “perilous state” despite billions of dollars spent to combat the spread of drug production there, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told Congress on Wednesday.
Afghanistan is the world’s leading source of opium, and opium production is the primary funding source for Taliban operations in the country, officials said in a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
The situation is worsening as the United States and NATO prepare for the official end of combat operations on Dec. 31, Sopko told members of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
“The situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond,” according Sopko’s written statement to Senate panel. “Afghan farmers are growing more opium poppies today than at any time in their modern history.”
Poppy cultivation hit a record level in 2013, with 209,000 hectares, or about 516,000 acres, devoted to growing the picturesque red flowers that provide the base ingredient for opiate drugs, including heroin, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. That’s a 36 percent increase over 2012.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimates the value of opium and its heroin and morphine derivatives produced in Afghanistan in 2013 at nearly $3 billion — an increase of 50 percent compared to 2012, Sopko said.
James Capra, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s chief of operations, told the panel Wednesday that rising drug production means Taliban income is on the rise.
“The Taliban receives millions annual from narcotics-related activity” by taxing growers and producers, Capra said, a fact that increases the insurgents’ ability to provoke instability elsewhere in the region, he said.
Erin Logan, principal director of the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats, said heroin abuse is a growing problem in the United States, and DOD is intent on “disrupting the flow of these drugs as far away from our shores as possible.”
The United States has poured vast sums of money into an effort to fight the problem since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, Sopko reported.
“Since 2002, the United States has spent at least $7 billion on a wide variety of programs to reduce poppy cultivation, prevent narcotics production, treat drug addiction, and improve the criminal justice system to combat drug trafficking,” according to his written testimony. “The United States has provided another $3 billion for agriculture and stabilization programs, which under the current U.S. strategy are considered an important part of the counternarcotics effort.”
Caucus chairwoman Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said the Senate body has produced several draft recommendations to combat the problem. Among them are increased international drug enforcement cooperation with countries that consume large amounts of Afghan opium, including Russia and Iran, as well as efforts to provide economic alternatives to poppy production for rural Afghans and greater support for Afghan government anti-drug enforcement.
The consequences of failure could be grim, Sopko told Congress. During recent trips to Afghanistan, he said, residents have laid out two possible outcomes for the country after the U.S. and NATO withdraw combat troops: a successful modern state or an insurgent state.
But he said because of the growing drug trade “there is a third possibility: a narco-criminal state. Absent effective counternarcotics programs and Afghan political will to seriously tackle this grave problem, that third outcome may become a reality.”