Opium and Afghanistan: Reassessing U.S. Counternarcotics Strategy
Authored by Lieutenant Colonel John A. Glaze. | October 2007
Cultivation and production of opium in Afghanistan have skyrocketed since the Taliban were toppled in 2001 such that Afghanistan now supplies 92 percent of the world's illicit opium. The expanding opium trade is threatening to destabilize the Afghan government and turn the conflict-ridden country back into a safe haven for drug traffickers and terrorists. This paper examines the nature of the opium problem in Afghanistan and analyzes the allied strategy to counter this growing crisis. In analyzing the current counternarcotics strategy, it points out pitfalls including the counterproductive aspects of opium eradication. Finally, changes to the strategy are proposed, which include increasing troop levels and eliminating national restrictions, substantially increasing financial aid, deemphasizing opium eradication, focusing on long-term alternative livelihoods, aggressively pursuing drug kingpins and corrupt government officials, and exploring the possibility of Afghanistan's entry to the licit opium market.
Afghanistan's history of violent conflict, weak central government, poor agricultural economy, rugged geography, and harsh climate are all factors contributing to the dramatic increase in opium cultivation and production since the toppling of the Taliban in 2001. The profitable characteristics of Afghanistan's opium economy, as well as the lack of negative consequences associated with opium trade and widespread government corruption, are fueling the opium economy and a reingvigorated Taliban and insurgency. The U.S. counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan has not been successful in countering these adverse trends. Consequently, six broad recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan are proposed: (1) increase troop levels and eliminate national restrictions; (2) substantially increase financial aid; (3) deemphasize opium eradication; (4) focus on long-term alternative livelihoods; (5) aggressively pursue drug kingpins and corrupt government officials; and (6) explore the possibility of Afghanistan's entry to the licit opium market.