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America: The Narco State of Afghanistan?



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9 minutes

The Involvement of American Agencies with the Opium Production in Sangin Afghanistan

Sangin is a district in the southern province of Helmand, which is known as the poppy-growing center of Afghanistan. For decades, Sangin has been a battleground between the Taliban and various forces trying to control the lucrative opium trade. The opium produced in Sangin and other parts of Afghanistan is processed into heroin and smuggled to international markets, generating billions of dollars in profits for drug traffickers, warlords, and insurgents.

Among the forces that have been involved in Sangin are American agencies, such as the CIA and the military. According to some reports, these agencies have not only failed to eradicate opium production in Sangin but have also facilitated or protected it for various geopolitical and economic reasons.

One of these reasons is to appease the local farmers and government officials who depend on the opium income and who might otherwise turn against the US-backed Afghan government in Kabul. Another reason is to use the opium trade as a source of intelligence and influence over regional actors, such as Pakistan, Iran, and Russia. A third reason is to profit from the drug trafficking networks that operate under the cover of the US military presence and transport aviation.

These allegations have been denied by the US government, which claims that it has spent billions of dollars and launched hundreds of airstrikes to destroy the heroin laboratories and poppy fields in Sangin and other parts of Afghanistan. However, these efforts have been largely ineffective or counterproductive, as they have alienated the local population, increased corruption and violence, and created incentives for higher opium production and prices.

The involvement of American agencies with the opium production in Sangin Afghanistan is a complex and controversial issue that raises questions about the motives and consequences of the US intervention in Afghanistan. It also illustrates how the opium trade is intertwined with the political, economic, and security dynamics of the country and the region.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin and other illicit opioids. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan accounted for more than 80% of the world’s opium supply in 2018.

One of the most important opium-producing areas in Afghanistan is Sangin district in Helmand province. Sangin is located in the southwestern part of the country, where 73% of the total opium cultivation area was concentrated in 2022. Sangin has been a stronghold of the Taliban insurgency for years, and a major source of revenue for their war efforts. The Taliban have profited from opium cultivation and trafficking by imposing taxes on farmers, processors and smugglers.

The opium economy in Sangin and other parts of Afghanistan has been affected by various factors, such as droughts, floods, conflicts, eradication campaigns, market prices, and political developments. In 2022, opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 32% over the previous year, reaching 233,000 hectares. This was the third largest area under cultivation since monitoring began. The increase was driven by high opium prices, which soared after the Taliban announced a ban on opium poppy farming in April 2022. The ban was not enforced for the 2022 harvest, but it created uncertainty and speculation among farmers and traders.

The income made by Afghan farmers from opium sales more than tripled in 2022, from $425 million in 2021 to $1.4 billion in 2022. However, this did not necessarily translate into purchasing power, as inflation also increased dramatically during the same period. The opium economy also had negative impacts on the environment, health, governance, and security of Afghanistan. Opium cultivation contributed to land degradation, water scarcity, and deforestation. Opium consumption and addiction caused health problems and social harm among Afghans. Opium corruption undermined the rule of law and state institutions. Opium trafficking fueled violence and instability in the region and beyond.

The international community has been trying to address the opium problem in Afghanistan for decades, with limited success. Various strategies have been implemented, such as alternative livelihoods, eradication, interdiction, prevention, and treatment. However, these efforts have faced many challenges, such as a lack of coordination, funding, political will and security. The recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has added more uncertainty and complexity to the situation. The Taliban have claimed that they will bring opium cultivation to zero again, but their record is mixed and their intentions are unclear. It remains to be seen how they will enforce their ban on opium poppy farming for the next season, and how they will deal with the economic and social consequences of such a policy.

What part did Marines play in protecting the Opium trade?

The Battle of Sangin: A Turning Point for the US Marines

The Battle of Sangin was one of the most intense and deadly campaigns of the Afghan War. It took place in the Sangin District of Helmand Province, a notorious Taliban stronghold, from July 2010 to October 2011. The US Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment (3/5), also known as Darkhorse, were tasked with clearing the area of insurgents and securing it for the Afghan government.

The mission was not easy. The Marines faced daily attacks from snipers, rockets, mortars, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that littered the roads and fields. The terrain was challenging, with canals, thick vegetation, and mud walls that provided cover for the enemy. The weather was harsh, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and dropping below freezing in the winter.

The Marines fought bravely and fiercely, often engaging in close-quarters combat with the Taliban. They also worked closely with their Afghan counterparts, training and mentoring them to take over security responsibilities. They built relationships with the local population, providing humanitarian aid and development projects.

The Battle of Sangin was a turning point for the US Marines in Afghanistan. It demonstrated their ability to take on a tough enemy in a hostile environment and prevail. It also showed their commitment to their mission and their comrades, as they endured heavy casualties and personal sacrifices.

The Battle of Sangin cost the lives of 49 US Marines and 8 British soldiers. More than 400 US Marines were wounded, many of them severely. The 3/5 alone suffered 25 killed and 184 wounded, making it the hardest-hit Marine unit in the war. The Battle of Sangin also claimed the lives of thousands of Taliban fighters and an unknown number of civilians.

The Battle of Sangin is a testament to the courage, skill, and dedication of the US Marines who fought there. It is a story of heroism, sacrifice, and honor that will live on in Marine Corps lore. But, what was our role in protecting the drugs?

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. James K. Peters stands in an opium poppy field while performing a foot patrol at Sangin, Afghanistan, May 19, 2011. Peters and his fellow Marines assigned to Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8, are familiarizing the battalion’s commander with their area of operation during the patrol. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jeremy C. Harris/Released)

“We cannot be in a situation where we remove the only source of income of people who live in the second poorest country in the world without being able to provide them with an alternative,” said NATO spokesman James Appathurai.

This information is further substantiated by first-hand accounts by  Matthew Hoh, a former captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. Hoh told MintPress that airborne fumigation was not carried out because it would be outside the control of Afghan government officials, who were deeply implicated in the drug trade, owning poppy fields and production plants themselves. “They were afraid that, if they went to aerial eradication, the U.S. pilots would just eradicate willy nilly and a lot of their own poppy fields would be hit.” In 2009, Hoh resigned in protest from his position at the State Department in Zabul Province over the government’s continued occupation of Afghanistan. He told MintPress:

NATO forces were more or less guarding poppy fields and poppy production, under the guise of counterinsurgency. The logic was ‘we don’t want to take away the livelihoods of the people.’ But really, what we were doing at that point was protecting the wealth of our friends in power in Afghanistan. “

Did the CIA pay off high-level Afghan governmental employees?

In a shocking revelation, The New York Times reported that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has been on the payroll of the CIA for the past eight years. According to the report, Ahmed Wali Karzai has received regular payments from the CIA for a variety of services, including recruiting and running a paramilitary force that operates at the CIA’s direction in and around Kandahar, his power base.

The report raises serious questions about the US involvement in Afghanistan and its relationship with the Karzai government. It also casts doubt on the credibility and legitimacy of Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is widely accused of being involved in drug trafficking and corruption. The CIA’s payments to him may have undermined the US efforts to combat the Taliban insurgency and to promote good governance and democracy in Afghanistan.

The CIA has declined to comment on the report, citing its policy of not discussing covert operations. However, some former and current US officials have confirmed the existence of the payments, while others have denied or downplayed them. The White House has also refused to comment on the matter, saying that it does not discuss intelligence matters.

The report comes at a critical time for the US and its allies in Afghanistan, as they are preparing to launch a major offensive in Kandahar province, where Ahmed Wali Karzai is a key player.

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More research needs to be done to connect the dots on how the afghan conflict was persecuted and what it means for the fallen and for the survivors of a global war on terrorism. 

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