U.S. Troops Are Protecting the Taliban’s Main Source of Income

Afghanistan’s opium fields provide “significant financial support to the Taliban,” as acknowledged in this letter from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The United Nations has also explained in great detail how the Taliban receives crucial funding from nearly every stage of Afghanistan’s opium trade.

So why exactly are US and NATO troops standing guard in opium fields across Afghanistan?

The NYT and ABC argue that if American troops aren’t standing guard in these poppy fields, farmers will fall into deeper poverty and be more inclined to join the Taliban. Supposedly, American troops in these fields can also prevent opium from being sold to drug traffickers.

But the Taliban doesn’t need these drug traffickers to make money off of opium farming. As reported by the United Nations Security Council, the Taliban collects a 10% tax directly from farmers on the land used to grow opium, specifically in areas like Helmand Province where US troops are standing guard.

(Photo Credit: Public Intelligence)

And what do the troops do with opium that’s seized from drug traffickers, anyway? According to Ex-Gen. Mahmut Gareev, “Americans themselves admit that drugs are often transported out of Afghanistan on American planes.” In the US, this opium can be used for heroin or it could go to big pharmaceutical corporations to make painkillers. Since the late ’90s pharmaceutical companies have fed Congress more money than any other US industry, investing as much as $273 million in 2009.

During an interview with Veterans Today, a representative from Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan explained, “the fact that $8 bn. have been spent in drug eradication efforts for the past decade but opium has only soared, is itself an indication that the drug business serves some US interest in Afghanistan.”

These counter-narcotics efforts benefited private contracters in the US such as Academi, a security firm which earned $569 million from the Defense Department in exchange for “training, equipment, and logistical support.” Northrop Grumman received $250 million for their counter-narcotics assistance.

Afghanistan still produces the vast majority of the world’s opium supply. This was true in the late ’90s. But in 2001 the Taliban had practically erased the country of opium farms using violent threats.

In fact, the Taliban only lifted their harsh ban on opium production in the country after the US invasion. Since then land cultivation for opium has exponentially grown, to 201,000 hectares in 2016. This was up 43% from the amount of farmland used for opium in 2015.

Speaking of opium statistics, the numbers have also been flying in the US since the Afghanistan invasion. From 2002 to 2013, heroin use increased 63%. The number of opiate painkiller overdoses has risen to quadruple what it was in 1999.

This wouldn’t be the first time the US government imports narcotics from an impoverished country, and certainly not the first time from a country where our military is in combat.

There are reports of CIA airplanes in 1950 Burma carrying opium to Thailand and Taiwan. Even more reports of these planes helping trade opium around Southeast Asia in the “Golden Triangle” of the Vietnam War. There’s the case of Manuel Noriega, a collaborator with the CIA in Panama during the ’70s who was known by the US government to be in service of the Medellin drug cartel.

There’s the ex-CIA pilot who admits to helping smuggle cocaine from South America in the ‘80s.

Are these troops defending a source of income for the US government? A long history of similar conspiracies with drug rings around the world, an astoundingly ineffective use of $8 billion over a decade and a half, and an opium epidemic back home all point in the right direction.

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