Billions in U.S. Spending Can’t Slow Afghan Opium Poppy Production


October 21, 2014

Afghan opium poppy production hit an all-time high in 2013 despite the United States spending $7.6 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, according to a new United Nations report.

The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime reports that Afghan farmers grew 209,000 hectares of opium in 2013, surpassing the previous record of 193,000 hectares in 2007. Poppy production is a major source of revenue in Afghanistan, which produces an estimated 90 percent of the world’s opium.

But the opium trade also “poisons the Afghan financial sector and undermines the Afghan state’s legitimacy by stoking corruption, sustaining criminal networks, and providing significant financial support to the Taliban and other insurgent groups,” wrote John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In his report to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Attorney General Eric Holder, Sopko said production is likely to increase in 2014 because of “deteriorating security in many parts of rural Afghanistan and low levels of eradication of poppy fields.”

Deep-well technology has made 200,000 hectares of southwestern desert land arable in the past decade, and high opium prices and the availability of cheap, skilled labor have encouraged cultivation. Provinces once declared “poppy free” have had a resurgence, the report found.

FRONTLINE explored the collateral damage from U.S. attempts to eradicate opium in Afghanistan in our 2012 film Opium Brides. Reporter Najibullah Quraishi spoke to farmers who took loans from drug smugglers to plant poppy crops, but lost everything when government forces destroyed their fields. To pay back what they owed, some were forced to give their young daughters or sons to local warlords.

Click here for more of our coverage of the Afghan opium trade, and watch Opium Brides below:

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

At George Floyd's Treatment Center, Recovering Clients See Racism in Addiction Assumptions
"Do you know how many times that could have been me?" Staff at a Minneapolis rehab facility that George Floyd attended see themselves in Floyd — and racism in theories about his drug use.
April 11, 2021
'Defending Our Existence': The Sung Family, From 2017 Film 'Abacus,' Talks About Anti-Asian Attacks, COVID
Thomas Sung and three of his daughters, all of whom were featured in the 2017 Oscar-nominated documentary "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail," spoke about how their community has weathered the pandemic and anti-Asian attacks in New York City.
April 9, 2021
Repatriating ISIS Foreign Fighters Is Key to Stemming Radicalization, Experts Say, but Many Countries Don’t Want Their Citizens Back
A review of the 10 countries that yielded the most ISIS foreign fighters showed varying levels of commitment to repatriation and prosecution.
April 6, 2021
Chauvin Trial Again Casts Spotlight on Minneapolis Police Department's Training Program
Over 19 years with the Minneapolis Police Department, Derek Chauvin, the now-fired officer on trial in the death of George Floyd, racked up 17 misconduct complaints and was involved in four on-duty shootings or other fatal encounters. Despite that, Chauvin continued to serve as a field training officer.
April 3, 2021