Afghanistan democracy is drowning in illegal drugs

August 13, 2006 | By | 13 Replies More

President Bush and Republican leaders in Washington have failed America by not stopping importation of heroin from Afghanistan which has become a “narco-state” in the aftermath of the toppling of the Taliban regime which had supported Osama bin Laden and global terror through sales of drugs. A resurgent Taliban uses drug sales as an instrument of terror and finances international terrorism. The warlords which grow and process the drugs are supported by the US in our continuing efforts to prop up the post-Taliban government of Hamid Karzi. The flow of more potent Afghan drugs into the US has caused carnage among users, some as young as 11.

In 2001, the Taliban had banned opium production in Afghanistan to increase the price of its stocks which it apparently used to supply funds to Osama bin Laden and other terrorists for their attacks upon the United States and others. Opium production in Afghanistan fell to just 74 metric tons. After the overthrow of the Taliban, opium production capacity skyrocketed to 1,278 metric tons in 2002, according to DEA statistics. Production more than doubled in 2003, and then nearly doubled again in the next year according to James Risen, in his book “State of War.” Risen also writes that “by 2004, Afghanistan was producing 87 percent of the world’s opium supply. In late 2004, the CIA estimated that 206,000 hectares were under poppy cultivation and that the new crop would generate $7 billion worth of heroin.”

Congress and the Bush administration were aware of the nature and extent of the problem, but did nothing. Bobby Charles, the Assistant Secretary of State who ran the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) told Congress and the Bush administration about the unchecked growth of poppy production in the Afghan countryside. “I started clanging the bell,” Mr. Charles recalled to Risen. “You had to take it seriously or it would devour the democracy.”

There is ample evidence that the drug trade dominates post-9/11 politics and government in Afghanistan. Clinton administration targeting of Afghan drug production facilities and labs had been updated by an interagency team and was turned over to the US military after the 9/11 attacks. “On the Day after 9/11, that target list was ready to go, and the military and the NSC threw it out the window,” a CIA source told Risen. “We had tracked these for years. The drug targets were big places, almost like small towns that did nothing but produce heroin. The British were screaming for us to bomb those targets, because most of the heroin in Britain comes from Afghanistan. But, they refused.” Mr. Charles had noted that drug trafficking had been taking place right in front of the US military. “In some cases they were destroying drugs, but in others they weren’t,” he said. “(Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld didn’t want drugs to become a core mission.”

Mr. Charles became so concerned that he asked the CIA to analyze where the drug money was going in Afghanistan. The agency told Charles the profits were being funneled into an al Qaeda related group, a group controlled by an anti-American renegade, the Taliban, and possibly al Qaeda. “The linkages were there,” Mr. Charles told Risen.

“There is no other country in the world that has 206,000 hectares under cultivation of any drug,” Mr. Charles said to Risen. Mr. Risen recounts that Charles was warned by a White House official that he was becoming “inconvenient”. When Charles persisted in his efforts to publicize and to block the narcotics trade in Afghanistan, he was told in late 2004 he was now “highly inconvenient.” Charles arranged to attend a post-election meeting of the war cabinet with former Secretary of State Colin Powell to press President Bush. Mr. Bush, reports Risen, said he was determined not to “waste another American life on a narco-state”, stressing that the United States had to destroy the poppy crop. It didn’t happen and Mr. Charles lost his job after the appointment of Condoleezza Rice as the new Secretary of State in early 2005.
In October of 2001, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Taliban was smuggling narcotics to finance its regime and the terrorists it harbored. Tajikistan, an adjacent country to Afghanistan had been seizing as few as 24 pounds of narcotics in 1991. There were no seizures of heroin at all until 1996. By 2000, the government of Tajikstan had seized 16,000 pounds, a third of it refined heroin. According to sources cited in the Post article, the “big fish” in the cross-border drug trade with Tajildstan were “in the Russian government and military.”

In January of 2002, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported a seizure of 1430 pounds of heroin and 550 pounds of morphine by Pakistani authorities near the border of Iran. The seized drugs had an estimated street value of over $550 million. The article cited sources which indicated that Afghanistan was ramping up opium production and had moved from producing 31 percent of the world’s opium in 1985, to producing over 73 percent in 1999.

In April of 2002, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that the ouster of the Taliban from leadership in Afghanistan did not cure the opium problem. The article noted the problems which faced the Bush administration in its thinking on drug policy and, for the first time, mentioned the impact of the heroin trade from Afghanistan as having an effect in the St. Louis metropolitan area with various new types of persons becoming heroin users such as a law student, mother and business school student.

In May of 2002, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a former St. Louis area resident was in Afghanistan for the previous year and noted that “maybe they could produce twice that [three quarters of the world’s supply of heroin], flooding the world.” As to the level of US involvement with troops and financial support of 8,000 troops and $1 billion a year, “they’re gambling that they have enough to keep things stable. And maybe they’re right.”

In an August 2003 Post-Dispatch editorial, the paper noted that NATO was taking over the job of keeping the peace in Afghanistan. The paper also noted that the only industry which had resumed full operations in Afghanistan was the heroin business.

In a Mid-August 2003 story, the Associated Press reported that the heroin trade in Afghanistan was the result of it being the world’s leading opium producer, that the culture in Afghanistan was for the poor to grow opium as the chief cash crop after many years of war which had devastated the country and that major trafficking operations had taken hold in Central Asia and Russia which smuggled the drugs to Europe. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it is “a whale of a tough problem.”

In the latter part of August, 2003, the Associated Press reported that the DEA had announced numerous arrests and seizures related to a drug conspiracy involving drugs smuggled from Afghanistan and Iran. The conspiracy involved an investigation which stretched from Colorado to California, and according to John Fernandes of the DEA, was well-structured and had “vast capabilities”. Federal agents arrested 14 men and seized 88 pounds of raw opium.

In an October 2003 story, the Associated Press reported that “narcoterrorism” and its related violence had driven international aid workers out of areas of Afghanistan closely associated with opium production, mostly the eastern and southern regions. A number of innocent aid workers for the Mercy Corps and the Red Cross had been killed in drug related violence. “You ask what we’re going to do, and the answer is `I don’t know’,” said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

In a January 2004 page-one story, the Post-Dispatch reported that more potent “white heroin” from Afghanistan and southwest Asia was taking hold in the St. Louis area and making addiction more accessible and raising the risk of increased violence among traffickers. The white heroin found in the St. Louis area in early 2004 was as high as 28 percent pure morphine, nearly twice the purity commonly found in the black tar variety which had long dominated the area trade in illicit heroin.

White heroin is of particular concern to area drug enforcement authorities because it does not need to be injected. “Traffickers are able to market this heroin better by saying you can snort it or smoke it,” a local DEA official told the Post-Dispatch. Some area researchers of drug abuse noted “There is a younger population that is being represented in the treatment data, more 18-24-year-olds.” In controlled purchases done by the local DEA in the first and third quarters of 2003, samples showed white heroin to be purchased 5 of 10, and 6 of 10 times, respectively. No purchases were done in the second quarter due to lack of funds. The Post noted that heroin trade related violence was more prominent than in other drug trafficking.

In a March 2004 story, the Associated Press reported that according to a UN drug agency, drug traffickers are targeting middle-class Americans with high purity heroin that users can smoke rather than inject, tailoring new narcotics products to meet the sensitivities of Americans who find injecting drugs repulsive. The report also stated that increasing levels of opium poppy production in Afghanistan may make opium-based narcotics cheaper in the United States and Europe.

In June of 2004, the Associated Press reported that the United Nations 2004 World Drug Report showed a worldwide increase in opium production, with Afghanistan leading all nations in opium production. The report was issued in Russia, a prime route for Afghan opium and heroin reaching the West.

In December of 2004, another UN report called on US and NATO-led forces to get more involved in fighting drug traffickers, according to the AP. “Fighting narcotics is equivalent to fighting terrorism,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. “It would be a historical error to abandon Afghanistan to opium, right after we reclaimed it from the Taliban and al-Qaida.” “The fear that Afghanistan might descend into a narco-state is slowly becoming a reality,” Costa said in the report. “Opium cultivation, which has spread like wildfire throughout the country, could ultimately incinerate everything; democracy, reconstruction and stability.”

In December of 2004, newly elected Afghani President Hamid Karzi declared a “holy war” on the country’s runaway narcotics industry, according to the AP. President Karzi also suggested Taliban militants were funding their insurgency with drug profits.
In March 2005, the Post cited News Services in a story about a U.N. report which stated that while overall poppy production was down in Afghanistan, a record number of acres were under cultivation and yielded nearly 90 percent of the world’s opium.

In October of 2005, Afghan President Karzi said; “The question of drugs… is one that will determine Afghanistan’s future…If we fail (to fight drugs), we will fail as a state eventually and we will fall back into the hands of terrorism.” The AP reported Mr. Karzi’s remarks amid violence which had broken out across Afghanistan as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived for a visit. Karzi also warned that insurgents were getting support from drug traffickers.

On March 19, 2006, the Post reported an unholy alliance was emerging among farmers, drug lords, Taliban remnants and al-Qaida fighters around the production and sale of opium derived drugs to wreak havoc on Afghan society by corrupting public officials and funding their violence. Afghani officials say that the drug trade is part of the terrorists “jihad against all Westerners, one of their tactics to ruin a society was to make them addicts, so they export heroin to the Western countries.”

On March 20, 2006, the Post reported that until the last year or two, the United States did relatively little to combat the burgeoning poppy problem in Afghanistan because it was focused on securing the country and building democracy. The irony is that the narcotics trafficking that was allowed to flourish now poses a severe threat to that very security and democracy. U.S. Ambassador Ronald

Neumann says the drug trade has put the country at a crossroads. “It jeopardizes the ability to build a modem democratic government that Afghanistan has resolved to build. It is not possible to build democratic institutions on the base of large amounts of drug money.” “Last year [2005],” Neumann candidly acknowledged, “was not a success by any means. Afghan efforts jelled late in the growing season. Our own policies were a bit late. Our money came late. As a result, there are a whole lot of changes going into this growing season. So this year will be the first real test of the policy.” The United States began its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.

By doing nothing to stop the increased flow of Afghanistan produced “white heroin” to Missouri, it is now in “communities where we haven’t seen it so much in the past” according to a report in the May 7, 2006 Post-Dispatch. “We are seeing middle-class high school students experimenting with heroin,” a police captain in charge of a St. Louis Metropolitan area drug task force told the Post.

[Except for the last two paragraphs, the remainder of this post is taken directly from the May 7, 2006 Post-Dispatch story.]

It’s being used by a group of’ people that 10 years ago would never have used it,” Illinois State Police Lt. Terry Lemming told the Post. “Just in the last couple of years, the purity of Chicago heroin has gone up dramatically. So it’s being used by people who hate needles,” Lemming said. Lemming is statewide drug enforcement coordinator for the Illinois State Police

It’s being used by a group of people that 10 years ago would never have used it,” Lemming told the Post. “Just in the last couple of years, the purity of Chicago heroin has gone up dramatically,” he said.

So it’s being used by people who hate needles.” Increased use of more potent white heroin, likely from Afghanistan, has resulted in a rash of heroin related deaths that are rising in numbers every year. The age of those dying has gone as low as one 11-year old in 2004. Users do not consider the potency of the new drug and use amounts they previously had consumed before the entry of more potent Afghan heroin into the market. “You know what happens with that – the users die,” says Dr. Chris Long, toxicologist for St. Louis City and County.

St. Louis reported 31 heroin related fatalities in 2001. Since then, the yearly average has been 54, with victims almost evenly split between blacks and whites. In St. Louis County, a medical examiners analysis of heroin-related deaths shows 128 fatalities since 2001. There were only 12 who died in 2001 when the Taliban cracked down on opium production.

Some drug officials in the Bush administration see no cause for any alarm. “We’re not concerned about this, we watch it daily, but as yet we see no evidence of a major change,” says David Murray, special assistant to the White House Office of Drug Control Policy. “As yet, our national monitoring system is not going off, bells are not ringing.” Told by officials from St. Louis and Chicago that there is more heroin and a different type that is attracting new users, Murray discounted those concerns saying they’re likely based upon “anecdotal impressions” stemming from an incident here or there.

Dr. Mary Case, medical examiner for St. Louis County since 1988, doesn’t buy that.”We see lots of heroin. We see it in lots of young people where we never used to see it,” Case says. “I don’t know why they would say this is anecdotal. I know what I see; I know what I write on a death certificate. That’s hard data, not anecdotal. It’s a striking phenomenon.”Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican from suburban Chicago, calls Afghan heroin “a unique danger.” Kirk says emergency room visits related to heroin use have jumped 400 percent over two years in Chicago’s heavily populated suburbs.

Suburban kids find needles to be extremely offensive, and that has proven to be a strong bother to suburban heroin use,” Kirk says. “But, Afghan heroin comes in the purest form, and now that it is entering the country it is allowing drug dealers to offer heroin to new markets.”

Kirk reacts strongly to those who question whether there is a mounting problem from Afghan heroin: “Someone who says that reminds me of someone sitting in a bar in New Orleans saying they’ve heard of Hurricane Katrina but it hasn’t hit yet.

The “global war on terror” has had many casualties. As a result of the apparent acquiescence by US forces and US policy makers on Afghanistan, heroin deaths in the St. Louis Metro area (and likely the country) have gone up drastically since 2001. Kids are dying. It’s time to stop the heroin carnage among our youth. It’s time to stop the flow of drugs from Afghanistan.

Mr. Bush, are you for America or the drug dealers?


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Category: American Culture, Current Events, Economy, Health, Politics, The Middle East, War

About the Author ()

imothy E. Hogan is a trial attorney, a husband, a father of two awesome children and a practicing Roman Catholic in St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Hogan has done legal and political work in Jefferson City, Missouri for partisan and non-partisan social change, environmental and consumer protection groups. Mr. Hogan has also worked for consumer advocate Ralph Nader in Washington, DC and the members of the trial bar in the State of New York. Mr. Hogan’s current interests involve remaining a full time solo practitioner pioneer on the frontiers of justice in America, a good husband and a good father to his awesome children.

Comments (13)

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  1. Jason Rayl says:

    One more piece of information needs to be added to this excellent chronicle to make it all the more tragic and understandable.

    Afghanistan has never been a resource rich country. It sits in a geologic as well as a geo-political crossroads in that region. Until 1980, its major export was nuts. The orchards of Afghanistan produced a wide range of nuts.

    When Russia invaded, one of their methods for destroying local resistance was to tear up orchards. Deprive the local community of its livelihood, drive them to the cities, control is easier. So they thought. It never quite played out that way, but they went ahead with the program,

    When the Taliban took over in the 90s, they actually continued this policy and for much the same reasons. Control. Destruction of local autonomy. To the point where, by 2001, virtually no orchards remain.

    Growing nut-bearing trees takes a long, long time. It was predicted as early as 2000 that unless the international community was willing to dump a huge amount of money into Afghanistan, it would resort the simpler, faster, and much more profitable poppy trade.


  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    Hogiemo's excellent analysis is consistent with another report I heard recently that said Afganistan, like Iraq, also hasn't been turning into the peace-loving picture of democracy that the Bush Administration has been painting. The essence of the report was that, in many ways, we're losing that country, too, and it sounds like it's going to the Taliban and the drug lords.

    Yet another unfortunate cost of Bush's misguided invasion of Iraq.

    For more information about the ongoing violence in Afganistan, look here:

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's more, from the 9/5/06 NYT: "Afghanistan’s opium harvest this year has reached the highest levels ever recorded, showing an increase of almost 50 percent from last year, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said Saturday in Kabul. He described the figures as “alarming” and “very bad news” for the Afghan government and international donors who have poured millions of dollars into programs to reduce the poppy crop since 2001."

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Check out this article about Afghanistan's flourishing drug trade in

    After years of hard work by drug warriors in Afghanistan, the country no longer produces 87 percent of the world's illicit opium. Now it produces 92 percent, according to the latest suspiciously precise estimate from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

  5. Deb says:

    Daily Show did a great take-off. Bottom is going to fall out of the opium market. Sell your shares now.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    "A United Nations report from September, . . . estimated that a staggering 407,724 acres of opium poppy were grown in Afghanistan in 2006. This represents a 59 percent increase over 2005, and a more than 100 percent increase since 2000."

    For more, see here.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a good follow-up to Tim Hogan's piece: "America is doped up in Colombia for a bad trip in Afghanistan" Click here for the article.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    The drug trade continues to flourish in Afghanistan:

    "Afghanistan is a narco-state," says retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News analyst. "It's the biggest one in the history of the world — it's a $3 billion-a-year crop."

  9. grumpypilgrim says:

    It is going to be difficult to remove illegal drugs from the Afgan economy, because it is such a huge percentage of the total. Had Bush not been so eager to chase windmills in Iraq, he might have focused attention on attacking both international terrorists and international drug dealers in Afganistan, thereby killing to birds with one stone. Unfortunately, turning Afganistan into a narco-state is just one of many of the lost opportunity costs of invading Iraq.

    For those unfamiliar with lost opportunity costs, it refers to the hidden costs of decisions (especially of bad decisions). For example, not only has Bush wasted $300 billion in Iraq, but he has also lost the opportunity to do something beneficial with that money, such as reducing the drug trade from Afganistan. Thus, not only is America stuck with the long-term cost of rebuilding Iraq, but we are also stuck with the long-term cost of repairing the damage that illegal drugs from Afganistan will cause in America: more drug addicts, more drug crime, more people in prison, more prisons, etc. In addition to killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, Bush's invasion of Iraq has been a financial disaster of which the full cost will never be known. Who will ever know what the world has lost because of Bush's (and America's) decision to kill and destroy rather than to build and enjoy.

  10. Tim Hogan says:

    "And so it goes."

  11. Tim Hogan says:

    Check out the latest in Afghanistan where we aren't, let the BBC know we don't support Bush's continuing costs in Iraq in corpses and capital!

  12. grumpypilgrim says:

    Afganistan is among the many lost opportunity costs of Bush's idiotic invasion of Iraq. Had he focused his attention, and U.S. military forces, in Afganistan — home of Al Qaeda — instead of on inventing lies about Iraq, we might have had two fewer countries in chaos today.

  13. Tim Hogan says:

    This just in—-former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants to run for the Senate in California. I guess she’ll be on the narco-terrorist ticket as she did everything she could to shut down drug interdiction efforts in Afghanistan to get us out of there and into Iraq where Cheney and Bush really wanted to go in the first place. Ms. Rice was assisted by another former Bush lackey mentioned for higher Office, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, who took over after Rice gave Bobby Charles, the hero of the story the boot. Schweich wants to run for Missouri Governor.

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