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Have we simply made Afghanistan safe for opium production?

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In 2000, the Taliban banned opium production in Afghanistan, making it illegal to grow poppies. Any farmer caught cultivating the cash crop would be severely punished, usually by death. By the middle of 2001, there was basically no opium produced in Afghanistan, though that nation ordinarily led the world in production of the drug. However, since the start of the U.S. led invasion, the poppy fields began growing again and the opium trade is flourishing as never before.

The Taliban had relied on opium sales to finance their operations until July 2000. It was then that the regime's leader Mullah Mohammed Omar issued a ban on the drug trade, because he claimed that it conflicted with Islamic law. Less than a year later, a U.N. delegation visited the areas of the country where poppies were traditionally grown and found nothing.

The head of the U.N. Drug Control Program said: "There are no poppies. It's amazing." By January 2002, the U.S. military had the Taliban on the run and the poppy fields had returned in earnest. At the same time, the U.S. and NATO nations signed a worldwide ban on opium production. The U.N. released a report on the return of the Afghan opium trade which noted: "Afghanistan has been the main source of illicit opium: 70 percent of global illicit opium production in 2000 and up to 90 percent of heroin in European drug markets originated from Afghanistan."

The report went on to say: "There are reliable indications that opium cultivation has resumed since October 2001 in some areas (such as the southern provinces Uruzgan, Helmand, Nangarhar, and Kandahar), following the effective implementation of the Taliban ban on cultivation in 2001, not only because of the breakdown in law and order, but also because the farmers are desperate to find a means of survival following the prolonged drought."

Despite the Bush administration claims at the time that the international drug trade helped finance terrorism, a blind-eye was turned to the activities of the Afghan warlords and the Pashtun mafia. The U.S. and our NATO partners ignored the re-introduction of the poppy crops and allowed opium production to flourish. In 2007, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime released a report which found that during 2006, opium production increased by 50 percent from the previous year.

Afghanistan produced a record of 6,700 metric tons in 2006, and was responsible for 92 percent of the world's opium production. This rise corresponded with the dramatic fall of Southeast Asia's opium production, which, in contrast only produced 370 metric tons that same year. In the past, it has been reported that the CIA is involved in Afghanistan's opium production, or at least in protecting it. In March 2002, a U.S. foreign intelligence official speaking on the condition of anonymity, reminded a reporter with NewsMax.com of the CIA's record of involvement with the international drug trade.

The official said: "The CIA did almost the identical thing during the Vietnam War, which had catastrophic consequences--the increase in the heroin trade in the USA beginning in the 1970's is directly attributable to the CIA. The CIA has been complicit in the global drug trade for years, so I guess they just want to carry on their favorite business." He went on to say: "The sole reason why organized crime groups and terrorists have the power that they do is all because of drug trafficking. Like the old saying, 'those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.'"

The following is a listing of Afghanistan’s opium crop in metric tons, since 2001:

-2001...185mt

-2002...3,400mt

-2003...3,600mt

-2004...4,200mt

-2005...4,100mt

-2006...6,700mt

-2007...8,200mt

-2008...7,700mt

-2009…6,900mt

-2010…3,600mt

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009 Summary Findings (www.unodc.org)

Afghanistan’s 2010 crop was nearly cut in half from the previous year’s production due to a blight hitting the poppy fields. However, the reduced supply tripled the price of opium, earning the farmers $605 million last year, up 38 percent from 2009. The current high price is now convincing many of that country’s farmers to give up on growing traditional crops such as wheat, and enter opium production.

In addition to being the world’s number one opium supplier, Afghanistan is now the largest producer of hashish, producing between 1,500 and 3,500 tons annually.

While the U.S. government claims to be making strides in the eradication of Afghanistan’s opium fields, the United Nations reports that only 5,351 hectares of opium were eradicated in 2009, less than 4 percent of the amount planted. In 2010, the amount of land used for poppy cultivation was 123,000 hectares, with the amount reportedly eradicated, unchanged from 2009.

Though Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world's opium supply, a mere 2 percent of the drug is actually seized within that country’s borders.

Afghanistan could now be fairly described as a 'narco-state' and the role that the U.S. military has played in that nation's illicit evolution cannot be ignored.

2010 was the deadliest year to date for the U.S. military serving in Afghanistan, with 499 personnel killed last year alone.

As of April 11, 2011, a total of 1,532 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan.

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