February 4, 2014:
After a few years of setbacks the Afghan drug gangs made a major comeback in 2013 when they produced 5,500 tons of opium. That’s up 50 percent from 3,700 tons in 2012. And then there was 2011. That was the year NATO forces in Afghanistan concentrated on the drug gangs and inflicted major damage. Because of the years of attacks on opium some drug gangs have switched to a more traditional drug: marijuana. Seizures of marijuana were up 12 times in 2012 and that of the concentrated form of marijuana, hashish were up 59 percent.
NATO also made a major effort to intercept delivery of the chemicals (which have to be imported) needed to convert opium into heroin and morphine. That was a success, as was the campaign to find and destroy the labs set up in the countryside to do the conversion. The increase in aerial surveillance was the key here, along with the larger variety of sensors on these aircraft. Despite increasing efforts to hide the labs, the UAV, satellite, and aircraft sensors could detect them when they were operating. There was always heat, and telltale chemicals, that could be spotted. Raids soon followed, usually via helicopter or just a smart bomb.
In 2010 the opium harvest was very low because it had been hit hard by drought and a plant disease. But the 2011 harvest bounced back 61 percent. That, plus a military crackdown on resurgent heroin production in Burma, once more made Afghanistan the source of 90 percent of the world's heroin. Two Afghan provinces (Kandahar and Helmand, the heartland of the Taliban movement) account for about two-thirds of the world's heroin. So if you know anyone using heroin, you know someone who is financing the Taliban and attacks on NATO (most of them American) troops.
The Taliban is eager to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe, but so far have been prevented from doing so because of the constant attacks by NATO troops. Most Taliban financing, which keeps their thousands of gunmen in action, comes from the drug gangs. Most of the armed resistance NATO troops run into when attacking drug facilities comes from the Taliban. For that, the Taliban receive several hundred million dollars a year.
In 2013 Afghan soldiers and police took over most security duties from NATO troops. That meant the troops attacking drug operations were now far easier to bribe and apparently the drug lords didn’t waste much time making offers that many commanders could not resist. The Afghan drug business, which only benefits (economically) about ten percent of the population and has turned ten percent of Afghans into addicts, is booming again.