The article leaves out some important facts. Although production may be most in the south certainly the drug trade is also in the north. No doubt many who profit from the trade are also in the government or "former" warlords. While Taliban no doubt are involved there are countless others including many supporters of the Karzai government. Another fact that is left out is that during the Taliban era they were paid to stop production and did so. Colin Powell presented them a check for their good work not all that long before everything turned sour and after 9/11 of course there was no more dealing with the Taliban. The Taliban never did completely stop drug dealing.
Anyway the mission in Afghanistan can at least record one outstanding economic success.
UN horrified by surge in opium trade in Helmand
Despite 7,000 UK troops, Taliban-backed production up 48%
Tuesday August 28, 2007
Britain's drug policy in Afghanistan's Helmand province lay in tatters yesterday as the UN declared a "frightening" explosion in opium production across the country, led by Taliban-backed farmers in the volatile south. Opium production soared by 34% to 8,200 tonnes, accounting for 93% of world supply and most of the heroin sold in Britain and Europe, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported.
The record crop was fuelled by Helmand, where, despite the deployment of 7,000 British soldiers and millions of pounds in development spending, opium cultivation surged by 48%.
The sprawling and violent province is now the world's single largest source of illegal drugs - greater than coca from Colombia, cannabis from Morocco or heroin from Burma, countries with populations up to 20 times greater.
A despondent UNODC noted that no other country has produced illegal narcotics on such a scale since China in the 19th century. "The situation is dramatic and getting worse by the day," said its director general, Antonio Maria Costa.
The sole bright spot was a sharp fall in poppy cultivation in the north, where the number of drug-free provinces doubled from six to 13. Balkh province, which produced 7,200 tonnes last year, eliminated poppy cultivation entirely. The disparity highlights a widening gap between relatively stable northern Afghanistan, where the Kabul government enjoys some authority, and the insurgency-racked south, where it has virtually none.
Favourable weather, Taliban insurgents and corrupt government officials all contributed to this year's record poppy haul, which has edged Afghanistan perilously close to becoming a full narco-state. The opium trade involves 3.3 million of Afghanistan's 23 million population, according to the UNODC, and accounts for more than half of its estimated $7.5bn (£3.7bn) gross domestic product.
Western countries, led by the US, have spent several billion pounds trying to eradicate the trade since 2001. But it has only grown stronger, and this year's dismal results are likely to revive a controversial debate on aerial crop spraying that pits America against the UK.
The US ambassador, William Wood, who was previously posted to Colombia, advocates dispatching squadrons of pesticide-filled crop duster planes to spray the poppy fields. Ground-based eradication destroyed 19,000 hectares this year, or one tenth of the total crop. But British and Afghan officials are trenchantly opposed to aerial spraying, arguing that it would only anger Afghan farmers and drive their families into the arms of the Taliban.
The Taliban have firmly entrenched themselves in the trade. Having vehemently opposed opium as "un-Islamic" in 2000, when the crop was virtually eliminated, the insurgents are now among its greatest champions. In Helmand, Taliban fighters protect poppy-growing farmers in exchange for a slice of their profits, and some commanders help to smuggle drugs. Their profits pay for arms, logistics and militia wages, the UN said.
Embarrassingly for the British, the Taliban have also linked poppy growing with military strategy. The town of Musa Qala, which the British military ceded to Taliban control last February, has become a major drugs hub. Opium is traded openly in the town bazaar and heroin processing labs have moved to the area.
The drug barons run little risk of being caught. No major smuggler has been arrested in Afghanistan since 2001. Yesterday Mr Costa urged President Hamid Karzai to submit a dozen major traffickers - whom he did not name - to the UN Security Council for inclusion on a Taliban sanctions list.
Frustrated western anti-narcotics specialists are also searching for fresh ideas that work. A senior British official said the UK will spend £10m on development projects in Helmand and contribute to a £13m "good performance" fund that rewards drug-free provinces.
Nato may also take a more aggressive role. Although western soldiers will not slash through fields of poppy - something British soldiers have always avoided - their commanders may start to target insurgents who double as drug smugglers. "There will be an overlap between counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency targets. We want people who are big in the insurgency and drugs to realise they don't enjoy impunity," said the British official.
But, he admitted, there was no silver bullet to kill the trade: "I expect it will be a long time before this problem is solved."