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Government Botches War on Drugs in Afghanistan, Accidentally Funds Opium Farmers

After nearly $8 billion spent on the drug war in Afghanistan, opium-poppy growth is worse than ever, according to a recent government oversight report.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction showed that while the U.S. government spent billions to eradicate drugs in Afghanistan, much of that money was misspent and even helped opium farmers while doing little to affect Afghanistan’s ballooning drug problem.

“At the moment, Afghanistan’s narcotics economy is the elephant in the room that we ignore at our peril,” the report states.

Drug money directly supports the Taliban and other insurgent groups and undermines the Afghan government’s stability. Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, its largest cash crop, with opiates like morphine and heroin as its largest export.

“I think the Taliban always has used opium and illicit drugs as a means of financing its insurgency program either directly or indirectly through taxes on opium farmers, and to the degree to which that trade can be reduced you can reduce the Taliban finances,” James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

After ten years of fighting the Afghan drug war, the U.S. still hasn’t figured out how to win. In fact, they are not even improving.

From 2011 to 2013, counter narcotics forces seized a small fraction of what was produced that year; about 7.6 percent of opium and less than 2 percent of heroin. The crop eradication forces only reached about 12 percent of their goal this last season, even less than the previous year.

This failure is in part because the money allocated is often misspent, whether on unrelated projects or actually on producing drugs.

According to the report, much of the money allocated to fight drugs is going to private companies for infrastructure projects like building roads, conference centers and schools. “How such projects translate into reductions in opium production is far from clear,” the report states.

Even worse, many of these infrastructure projects likely ended up aiding drug production. In one instance, government funds given for irrigation improvement in Nangarhar were actually used to cultivate opium poppy in 2013 and 2014.

Nasir Shansab is a leading industrialist and author in Afghanistan. He told TheDCNF that corrupt government officials and police chiefs are a large part of the problem. Shansab said the position of police chief must be purchased with an enormous amount of money, so when someone gets the job they are looking to make back their investment through corrupt drug dealings.

“It has been growing immensely every year and it seems that it is unstoppable,” Shansab said.

Another likely reason for drug proliferation was the U.S. government’s failure to track whether the billions spent on the drug war was actually helping. Turns out it wasn’t.

The government did not track their progress progress on opium-poppy farm destruction from 2002 to 2005. Then, when they began tracking, their system was poor until they finally got it right in 2008, according to the report.

Their improved monitoring has not improved outcomes, however.

Poppy cultivation has migrated to more remote and less secure areas of the country where the government struggles to maintain control or has no control at all.

“To continue to ignore the impact of opium production on reconstruction–and reconstruction’s effect on the opium economy–would be negligent, wasteful of taxpayers’ money, and destructive of U.S. policy goals,” the report states.

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