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After 16 Years of War, Afghanistan Still World’s Heroin Supplier

On Monday, President Donald Trump revealed many substantive changes to U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, but the longest war in U.S. history cannot be won without confronting narco-terrorism. After 16 years and billions of U.S. dollars spent, Afghanistan now supplies more than 75 percent of the world’s heroin and the region hosts the highest concentration of terrorist groups. Not only that, Afghanistan serves as a primary hub where the world’s largest drug trafficking groups directly support Islamic terrorism. There will be none of Trump’s promise of victory without confronting these dark truths.

[1]Narco-terrorism describes the nexus between drug traffickers and terrorists. It manifests itself in four basic forms: 1) drug traffickers who engage in terrorist activity to further their drug trade; 2) terrorists who sell drugs to finance their operations; 3) organizations with equal interests in drug trafficking and terrorism; and 4) drug traffickers and terrorists who mutually support each other.

Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province has become the epicenter of this black market. Here, there is a strong symbiotic relationship between heroin traffickers and terrorist groups like the Haqqani network [2] and the Taliban. Drug traffickers give a percentage of their drug proceeds to the Taliban as a form of zakat [3], an obligatory donation required as one of the five pillars of Islam. Taliban commanders also ask heroin traffickers to purchase weapons and supplies for them, and allow their fighters to stage at drug labs before attacks.

In exchange for this support, the Taliban agrees to protect heroin laboratories from the Afghan police and military. The Taliban intimidate or murder Afghan nationals who cooperate with authorities and wage active jihad against Afghanistan’s government, creating a lawless environment in which both drug trafficking and terrorism thrive.

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According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), approximately 37 percent of all designated terrorist groups are linked to illicit narcotics trafficking. In recent years, the DEA and Afghan police have targeted top-level narco-terrorists using relatively new federal legislation. In 2006, the United States enacted a federal narco-terrorism law, under 21 United States Code 960(a). [4] This legislation makes it a crime to engage in federally prohibited drug trafficking, with the intent to provide anything of pecuniary value to a terrorist organization or to those engaged in terrorist activities.

The first person ever convicted under this new law was Khan Mohammed, an Afghan national from Nangarhar province who was both a heroin trafficker and a member of the Afghan Taliban. He was recorded saying, “May God eliminate them (infidels) right now, and we will eliminate them too. Whether it is by opium or by shooting, this is our common goal.” Mohammed was arrested in 2006, after a joint investigation by the DEA and Afghan Counter Narcotics Police. He was brought to the United States and convicted [5] in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on both drug and narco-terrorism charges. He received two life sentences.

Haji Bagcho, the world’s most prolific drug trafficker, based many of his heroin labs in Nangarhar province. His drug trafficking organization was responsible for approximately 20 percent of the world’s distribution, according to United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates of worldwide heroin production. In one 12-month period, Haji Bagcho distributed over 123,000 kilograms of heroin, with a wholesale value over $261 million and a street value in the billions of dollars.

Haji Bagcho provided money and weapons to Taliban leadership, urging them to expel “infidels” from Afghanistan, and asked farmers to grow more opium “so we can make heroin to kill the infidels.” Haji Bagcho was convicted [6] of drug and narco-terrorism charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sentenced to serve life in prison, and ordered to forfeit over $254 million. While the narco-terrorism charge was later vacated, Haji Bagcho remains in jail for life on drug charges.

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According to a 2016 report [7] by the UNODC, Afghanistan has approximately two-thirds of the world’s arable land dedicated to cultivating poppies, the plant used to produce opiates. Afghanistan processed 77 percent the world’s heroin, according to a 2015 UNODC report [8], and Nangarhar is one of Afghanistan’s top heroin-producing provinces. A 2017 UNODC report [9], claims approximately half of the Afghan Taliban’s income may come from narcotics.

Across the treacherous Hindu Kush mountains in Nangarhar [10] province, farmers grow poppies, from which they extract opium to sell to brokers. Brokers then sell the opium to drug production groups, who run clandestine laboratories in the mountains. There, the opium is converted into morphine and heroin. Traffickers refer to the most refined heroin as “spin mal.” This high-purity, injectable heroin is sold around the world, including in the United States.

Needless to say, there are high levels of corruption among the district police, border police, and politicians in this province. Many Afghan officials have contacts in the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, and the Haqqani network [11]. This public corruption contributes to the flourishing of both terrorists and traffickers.

For years, coalition military forces have engaged [12] terrorists throughout the area—Tora Bora, where Osama Bin Laden [13] took refuge after 9/11, is located in the Spin Ghar mountain range in southern Nangarhar. In April, the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs,” on an Islamic State tunnel complex [14] in Nangarhar. Still, the issues persist.

President Trump’s new strategy in South Asia should unleash the full might of the U.S. military against terrorist groups there, but it has to target the  narco-terrorism. Any military effort to defeat the Islamic State, Haqqani network, Taliban and other terrorist groups will only succeed if the U.S. destroys the narco-terrorists based in Nangarhar province and throughout the region. How that is done effectively, after more than a decade of trying, remains to be seen.

Jeffrey James Higgins is a retired DEA supervisory special agent with 25 years of law enforcement experience and an expert in narco-terrorism. His writing can be found at JeffreyJamesHiggins.com [15].

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "After 16 Years of War, Afghanistan Still World’s Heroin Supplier"

#1 Comment By PeterG On August 23, 2017 @ 12:00 am

DEA agent Higgins should admit that our drug war here at home has been and will be an abysmal failure. Our best option in Afghanistan is to leave the country to the Taliban and withdraw.

#2 Comment By Frank Blangeard On August 23, 2017 @ 12:25 am

I think that the article has mixed up the Taliban and the CIA (Criminals in Asia). Just replace the word Taliban with CIA and the article makes much more sense. When the Taliban were governing the country there was very little opium poppy production. As soon as the Taliban were overthrown the biggest drug cartel in the world, CIA (Criminals in Asia),
moved in and opium poppy production has been on a roll ever since.

#3 Comment By b On August 23, 2017 @ 3:13 am

If you take the problem down to the lowest level you end up staring at a farmer and the family he needs to feed. You need a replacement crop, that uses as little water as poppy, and returns a similar profit. I might be able to subsidize your way to a solution but it needs to be lasting. This all falls squarely into the realm of nation building and economic development. From what I heard in the speech that is no longer a focus. From my experience in country in 2013 it appeared as if we really had no interest in staying long enough to see those changes through so we never truly focused our efforts. Why bother if the task is going to take decades and you only have a year or two at best? Therein lies the damage of announcing withdrawal dates. You not only send a message to the enemy but you also send a message to the troops on the ground. And that message was: Do the best you can and get this handed over the locals because we are getting out of here.

#4 Comment By Furbo On August 23, 2017 @ 4:28 am

The Irony is that the Taliban stopped poppy cultivation dead in 2001.

#5 Comment By J Harlan On August 23, 2017 @ 8:42 am

Yes because the rest of the “war on drugs”: has worked so well.

All the war on drugs does is to give exciting jobs to narco-police, supply corrupt police with “the proceeds of crime”, keep prisons full, and catch enough amateurs to keep the price of narcotics high.

Narcotic abuse is a health problem not a law enforcement one.

#6 Comment By Clifford Story On August 23, 2017 @ 9:20 am

Isn’t it true that, before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban had suppressed the heroin business there?

Yes, it is. There’s a nice chart of yearly heroin production in Afghanistan in a Wikipedia article at [16]. Production in 2001 was barely above zero.

So, who thinks that further war will bring down heroin production? Raise your hands…

#7 Comment By SDS On August 23, 2017 @ 9:23 am

“There will be none of Trump’s promise of victory without confronting these dark truths.”
Let’s be realistic….
“There will be none of Trump’s promise of victory”
WE could not make the place a western liberal democracy with 100 thousand troops; we will not do it with 10-11 thousand…
We should get completely out NOW-

#8 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 23, 2017 @ 9:24 am

A couple of counterfactuals, though, one of recent history, the other a seminal part of Anglo imperialism in Asia.

First, that the Taliban, due to the ascetic fundamentalism that the people of Afghanistan preferred to the warlords, after we funded and armed them to overthrow the Soviet aligned communist government, had largely eradicated the drug trade.
Our own allies, the ones willing to collaborate with us, are among the most ruthless, depraved and corrupt themselves, involved in the drug trade. These warlords also are often practitioners of child homoerotic sex slavery, which our own troops often billeted with them have been told to tolerate, but which is a great grievance for villagers from whom their children are abducted. Our occupations turn ordinary Afghans against us, and the no holds barred approach will further sicken them. Since the government we have imposed is not seen to represent them, it cannot survive except through imposition of force, since they did not consent to occupation.

After seventeen years, the drug trade has metastasized, coincident with the war and our occupation. Conflating it with the war on drugs will make it truly open ended and forever, which serves the interests of those who profit mightily exporting war and coincident with the weapons trade, legal and illegal, but always immoral. This mirrors America itself domestically – with coincident twin scourges of violence and drug addiction both legal and illegal.

The historical irony – Karma? – is that much of the turmoil in asia was built up during the colonial era. Recall the Opium Wars, where our anglo empire insisted on exporting by force narcotics into China to addict their people, with full participation by the corporate owners of the Yankee Clippers used to deliver the goods.

It is always the case, that eventually the evil planned for others, with greed the root of that evil, is turned back upon those who did so – or their own hapless populations, in this case, ourselves.

#9 Comment By Fred Bowman On August 23, 2017 @ 9:34 am

One hope the primary mission of the extra troops being sent into Afghanistan would be the eradication of these fields and labs. Unfortunately I’m not holding my breathe for that to happen.

#10 Comment By Dan Green On August 23, 2017 @ 10:41 am

Reminds me of pumping out a septic tank, knowing it will re-fill.

#11 Comment By Joe F On August 23, 2017 @ 3:56 pm

Bug or feature?

#12 Comment By observeandreport On August 23, 2017 @ 4:17 pm

“He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity.”

[17]

#13 Comment By Steve On August 23, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

How does all this heroin get into the US?
Do the Mexican cocaine dealers cooperate with the Afghans by bringing their heroin into the US along with their cocaine?
Does the CIA help bring in the heroin, since they did cooperate with the terrorist groups there?
Is the CIA still considered to be a bona fide American organism, or is it run by foreign governments against US interests?

#14 Comment By chris chuba On August 23, 2017 @ 7:36 pm

I’d love to know more about the author’s background to see why I should trust his version of events. In addition to what the others have said about the Taliban not tolerating Opium production pre-invasion, I have looked at a map of Taliban controlled areas. It did not correlate well to the drug production areas. I am not claiming to be an expert or to even know the truth of who is helping to produce the heroin.

B, regarding an alternative cash crop, on Shark Tank there was a couple trying to promote Saffron production in Afghanistan. The claimed that it had a high quality and a very competitive value.

#15 Comment By charrob On August 24, 2017 @ 12:52 am

I’ve repeatedly read that prior to our 2001 invasion, there was no heroin/poppy production in Afghanistan. This is because it goes against the conservative religious values of the Taliban. My understanding is that it’s the U.S. backed war lords that are heavily involved in the drug trade in addition to corrupt officials in the U.S. backed Afghan gov’t.

#16 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 24, 2017 @ 9:00 am

Thar’s more war profit money to be made in them thar Afghan hills. If the political agenda has been seen to have failed by military means, let’s switch the justification to a Drug War. Such wars are not profitable for those who invest in them if they actually end, so the clear involvement of our warlord allies is a feature, not a bug, providing income streams for all involved, if not forever, for many quarterly statements to come.

#17 Comment By Joe Sixpack On August 24, 2017 @ 10:31 am

CIA controls the drug trade and uses the proceeds to fund…who knows what.

Article also skips over the vast, untapped reserves of lithium in Afghanistan. Also lots of gold and iron ore and other precious metals. Gov’t survey released to the public in 2007 claims there’s roughly $3Trillion in recoverable minerals.

Your grandkids will still be patrolling the poppy fields and lithium mines in this country in the 2040’s. Bank on it.

#18 Comment By Mike Garrett On August 24, 2017 @ 11:50 am

I traveled widely in Afghanistan with the UN during 2000, and at that time I was often told by people in rural areas that the Taliban had come down hard on the raising of opium poppies. It was even difficult to buy hashish in Kabul, and alcohol was very rare. We should bear in mind that during the Vietnam war most of the West’s heroin was said to be coming from Southeast Asia. This is a scam. It is US “intelligence services” that control the world’s illegal drug industry, and everyone else on earth knows this.

#19 Comment By Vincenzo Ferretti On August 24, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

Afghanistan was a progressive society under a Marxist government….then religion poisoned everything. Viva Brezhnev! [18]

#20 Comment By Winston On August 27, 2017 @ 5:28 am

If you read McCoy, you will understand wherever CIA goes drug production ramps up or starts. That is how it funds covert wars.

Also see the connection via what Catherine Fitts discusses.