U.S. Expected to Target Afghanistan's Opium

U.S. Expected to Target Afghanistan's Opium
Posted by FoM on October 16, 2001 at 08:43:21 PT
By Donna Leinwand, Toni Locy and Vivienne Walt
Source: USA Today
As American bombers continue to pound Taliban facilities in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say the campaign against the terrorist-friendly regime inevitably will target its biggest moneymaker: a vibrant drug network that supplies more than 70% of the world's opium. Authorities in the USA and Europe already have frozen an estimated $24 million in assets linked to Osama bin Laden, his al-Qa'eda terrorist network and the Taliban. 
But the American-led effort is just beginning to put a dent in a drug trade that U.S. officials believe nets the Taliban up to $30 million a year in taxes and tolls that it collects from Afghan drug rings.The opium continues to flow from Afghanistan, U.S. officials say, even though the Taliban last year vowed to ban opium cultivation and to direct farmers toward crops that would help feed millions who live in poverty. Taliban leaders declared that heroin, which is derived from opium, was anti-Islam.The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan's opium crop seems to have dropped by more than 90% this year from the nearly 3,300 metric tons produced in 2000. But now the Taliban either is unwilling or unable to enforce the opium ban, which U.S. and U.N. officials say appears to have been largely a ploy to drive up opium prices by limiting the supply.U.N. officials say that for the past several years, Afghan drug rings have been stockpiling about 60% of their annual opium harvests. Those reserves, which intelligence sources say were being held in at least 40 warehouses throughout Afghanistan earlier this year, have been a financial safeguard for the Taliban.U.S. officials suspect the reserves also have been part of an effort by the Taliban and drug groups to control heroin prices worldwide, just as oil cartels manipulated crude prices in the 1970s.If that was the Taliban's strategy, it worked  for a while.In July 2000, when the Taliban told Afghan farmers to stop growing opium or risk execution, a kilogram of the drug sold for about $44 wholesale, the U.N. says. A year later, a kilogram cost $400. But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the USA, opium prices have plummeted and now are back below $100 a kilogram.Still, street prices for heroin across Europe have remained low, an indication that Afghanistan likely has kept the supply of opium steady by releasing its reserves. U.S. and U.N. analysts say that Afghan drug rings now are dumping some opium reserves onto the market in an effort to empty warehouses before U.S.-led air raids can destroy them."When there is a war, everyone tries to convert everything into cash," says Mohammad Fallah, head of the drug-control program in neighboring Iran, where anxious officials say the bombing in Afghanistan is likely to create waves of opium smugglers trying to cross the border.Iran is a popular thoroughfare for smugglers traveling from Afghanistan to western Europe, where officials say most of the heroin on the streets originates in Afghanistan. (About 5% of the heroin from Afghanistan winds up in the USA, where most of the heroin comes from Mexico and Colombia.)Analysts say the importance of drug money to the Taliban offers U.S. officials the chance to launch a major strike against the worldwide heroin trade as part of their anti-terrorism campaign.U.S. officials "realize that the (drug) money is critical" to the Taliban, says Neil Livingstone, author of several books on terrorism and chairman of GlobalOptions, an international risk management company in Washington, D.C. "Afghanistan has no means of supporting its military, except with opium (sales). Everyone recognizes the need to go after the opium."Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has declined to say how or when U.S. forces might do that."The heroin trade is ultimately very important (to U.S. anti-terrorism efforts) because it's a revenue source for a very dangerous regime," says Asa Hutchinson, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "Without curtailing the heroin trade, you cannot succeed in Afghanistan."An Opium Nation In a rugged, mostly barren nation of 27 million people that has been decimated by war, poverty and drought, opium dominates not just the economy but everyday life. It is grown in 22 of Afghanistan's 30 provinces, and for struggling farmers across the nation the poppy literally has been a lifesaver.Opium has been in Afghanistan for centuries, but became an economic force only after the end of Afghanistan's 10-year war with the Soviet Union in 1989.That conflict, along with an ongoing civil war, destroyed Afghanistan's crop irrigation system. Because opium poppies require little water or maintenance and are in demand worldwide, many food-producing farmers turned to the drug trade. That shut down much of Afghanistan's already tenuous food supply chain.Today, opium isn't just Afghanistan's only significant cash crop  it's the dominant currency. Opium and its derivatives made through chemical processing  heroin, morphine base and opium gum  are traded for guns, food and shelter.The footprints of the Afghan opium trade can be seen throughout Asia and Europe.Drug addiction is a growing problem in Afghanistan, drug policy analysts say. In neighboring Iran and Pakistan border jails are filled with drug smugglers, and officials are struggling to deal with an estimated 2.5 million addicts.In Germany, Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe, officials say Afghanistan is by far the leading source of heroin."We know the Taliban regime is largely funded by the drug trade and that 90% of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan," British Prime Minister Tony Blair says.The Complexities of a Drug War Because Afghanistan's opium trade is such a menace to its neighbors, some officials in Europe and western Asia are hoping that the U.S.-led war on terrorism takes down the Afghan drug trade along with the Taliban.A U.S. official who asked not to be identified said that given the opium trade's importance to those who support terrorism, American forces would be justified in spraying Afghan fields to kill opium poppies, and in destroying stockpiles of opium or processed heroin. Such spraying could be done in February, when the next crop of opium poppies begins to blossom."It's a logical step," the official says.Livingstone says he's "100% sure" that U.S. forces have made plans to disrupt and destroy Afghanistan's drug trade.But U.S. officials acknowledge that going after Afghanistan's drug trade is fraught with complications:Harvested opium and processed heroin are easy to hide, and U.S. officials aren't sure where all of Afghanistan's stockpiled opium is.After the opium crops are dead, then what? Analysts say that any effort to eliminate the backbone of Afghanistan's economy would have to be followed with a massive aid program to help feed millions and help farmers make the switch to legitimate crops.Before the bombs began falling in Afghanistan, the U.N. estimated that $250 million in aid would be needed to help Afghan farmers switch from opium to food crops.Many Afghans who are struggling to stay fed and clothed rely on the opium trade as their sole means of support and might rebel against anyone who took away their livelihood, analysts say.The Northern Alliance, the USA's ally of convenience, doesn't appear to be that different from the Taliban when it comes to skimming money from drug networks. Although the alliance controls only a small percentage of the land used to grow opium in Afghanistan, U.N. officials say they believe that drug money is key to the alliance's funding.If the alliance rises to power and winds up in position to collect as much in opium "taxes" as the Taliban did, it's unclear whether the alliance really would agree to crack down on cultivation of the poppy."Prospects for progress on drug-control efforts in Afghanistan remain dim as long as the country remains at war," a State Department report said in March. "Nothing indicates that either the Taliban or the Northern Alliance intend to take serious action to destroy heroin or morphine base laboratories, or stop drug trafficking.""The more turmoil in (Afghanistan), the more opium will play a role," says Pino Arlacchi, executive director of the U.N.'s drug control program.Arlacchi says that once the shooting stops in Afghanistan  and the Taliban presumably is ousted  the world should help to rebuild the troubled nation. That sentiment has been echoed by President Bush, who says the USA's disinterest in helping Afghanistan after its war with the Soviet Union help to create its current unrest and desperation.Teaching Afghanistan's farmers to grow something besides opium will be key, Arlacchi says."Otherwise, we will be pumping money into Afghanistan that will go into the wrong hands, and Afghanistan will continue to be the headache to the international community that it has been for 200 years."Contributing: Jonathan Weisman Source: USA Today (US)Author: Donna Leinwand, Toni Locy and Vivienne WaltPublished: October 16, 2001Copyright: 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.Contact: editor usatoday.comWebsite: Articles:War of The Poppies Takes Cut in Booming Drug Trade Den - U.S. News & World Report 
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on October 16, 2001 at 10:10:10 PT
Thank you so much. Posting links like the one you just did is exactly what I like to see done. If you think of every article that is posted as a web page. It can say a lot as long as we develop it. Ron Bennett, the person who created Cannabis News explained that to me a long time ago so with every article I post I think how important it could be. Maybe not but just maybe yes.
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Comment #1 posted by Sudaca on October 16, 2001 at 09:52:46 PT
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