Afghan opium harvest reaches record high and Western troops prepare to withdraw – after a job well done?

This Afghan war started on 7th October 2001. Ostensibly the US, NATO and Western allies invaded to dismantle the Al Qaida infrastructure, remove the Taliban from power and to eradicate their support base by winning hearts and minds.

Twelve years on, about 10,000 Afghan security forces and about 5,000 allied forces (including contractors) have been killed. The numbers of Taliban and other Islamic fighters killed is believed to be many more than the 15,000 allied losses – perhaps as many as 30,000. Around 18,000 civilians have also lost their lives. The Taliban are still around and apparently gaining strength. I am not sure whether the intention was to destroy the drug trade or whether it was secretly to secure drug supplies. In any event the opium harvest has never been as high before.

History will have to tell us if this was a job well done or something else.

Reuters: Afghan opium crop hits record high ahead of Western withdrawal

Afghan opium cultivation has hit a record high as international forces prepare to leave the country, the United Nations said on Wednesday, with concern that profits will go to warlords jockeying for power ahead of a presidential election next year. The expansion of poppy to 209,000 hectares (516,000 acres), will embarrass Afghanistan’s aid donors after more than 10 years of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency. …..

The area under poppy is 36 percent higher than in 2012, and eclipses the previous record set in 2007, when 193,000 hectares (477,000 acres) were cultivated, the U.N. anti-drugs agency said in a report. Total output is estimated at 5,500 tonnes of opium, up 49 percent from 3,700 tonnes in 2012. Farm-gate profits are expected to approach $1 billion, or 4 percent of gross domestic product. Some of those profits will be funneled off by the Taliban to fuel their insurgency. …… 

A kg of opium costs some $200 at the farm-gate. This produces about 100 g of pure heroin. The street price of heroin is about $170 per gram (2012 prices) for typically 40% pure heroin (75% is considered high). The $200 dollars for the 1 kg of opium is thus marked-up to about $40,000 as street-heroin. If the profits at the farm-gates are $1 billion, it can be expected that the profits on the streets from the processed drugs must be of the order of 50 – 100 times greater.

A steady profit stream of $50 – 100 billion per year clearly will – and does –  cause many to salivate.

The Spoils of War:

Each kg. of opium produces 100 grams of pure heroin. The US retail prices for heroin (with a low level of purity) is, according to UNODC of the order of $172 a gram. The price per gram of pure heroin is substantially higher.

The profits are largely reaped at the level of the international wholesale and retail markets of heroin as well as in the process of money laundering in Western banking institutions. 

The revenues derived from the global trade in heroin constitute a multibillion dollar bonanza for financial institutions and organized crime.

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