Troubling turn in Afghan war: Taliban profits soar by making heroin

The New York Times reports: The labs themselves are simple, tucked into nondescript huts or caves: a couple-dozen empty barrels for mixing, sacks or gallon jugs of precursor chemicals, piles of firewood, a press machine, a generator and a water pump with a long hose to draw from a nearby well.

They are heroin refining operations, and the Afghan police and American Special Forces keep running into them all over Afghanistan this year. Officials and diplomats are increasingly worried that the labs’ proliferation is one of the most troubling turns yet in the long struggle to end the Taliban insurgency.

That the country has consistently produced about 85 percent of the world’s opium, despite more than $8 billion spent by the United States alone to fight it over the years, is accepted with a sense of helplessness among counternarcotics officials.

For years, most of the harvest would be smuggled out in the form of bulky opium syrup that was refined in other countries. But now, Afghan and Western officials estimate that half, if not more, of Afghan opium is getting some level of processing in the country, either into morphine or heroin with varying degrees of purity.

The refining makes the drug much easier to smuggle out into the supply lines to the West. And it is vastly increasing the profits for the Taliban, for whom the drug trade makes up at least 60 percent of their income, according to Afghan and Western officials.

“Without drugs, this war would have been long over,” President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan said recently. “The heroin is a very important driver of this war.” [Continue reading…]

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