US Marines in opium poppy field in Afghanistan

While publicly lamenting wasteful spending, Washington gets high blowing cash on the drug war. In the case of Afghanistan and the fight against heroin, the US government spent $7 billion to eradicate poppy cultivation with no discernible effect. In fact, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime Opium Survey opium production is hitting records in Afghanistan with “estimates that 209,000 hectares are under opium-poppy cultivation, an all-time high and a 36% increase from 2012.”

36% increase? Something seems to have gone wrong. Especially when considering Afghanistan’s draft National Drug Control Strategy for 2012–2016′s goal was to reduce production by 50%. Use of heroin among Afghans has also spiked with estimates now putting the number of adult users at 1.3 million or 7.5% of the population with the number only growing.

Of course, how much could the US really crack down on the heroin trade when it needed drug dealers and their political allies to fight the Taliban?

During the height of the American counterinsurgency effort, winning over the general population to the side of the government and foreign forces was a big focus. The US found that tearing up crops and impoverishing farmers wasn’t very popular.

The early eradication strategy was largely abandoned in favor of going after big opium dealers and encouraging farmers to grow other crops. But that really hasn’t worked, either. The country’s opium and heroin trade is a top earner, and with the military effort winding down, the business opportunities associated with aid and foreign military spending are set to decline.

So why the $7 billion pretense? Especially with the US backing Hamid Karzai whose family was/is intimately involved in Afghanistan’s heroin business – quite an alliance for a drug free Afghanistan. And now that the US is somewhat dislodging itself from Afghanistan the economic and political power of heroin and those that control it will only increase (if that’s possible).

What is perhaps most tragic is that this $7 billion total waste of US taxpayer money is likely to turn out to be one of the less costly mistakes the US made in Afghanistan.

Photo by ISAFMedia under public domain.