In 2000, the Taliban banned opium production in Afghanistan, making it illegal to grow poppies. Any farmer caught cultivating the cash crop would be severely punished, usually by death. By the middle of 2001, there was basically no opium produced in Afghanistan, though that nation ordinarily led the world in production of the drug. However, since the start of the U.S. led invasion in the fall of 2001, the poppy fields began growing again and the opium trade has since flourished as never before.
The Taliban had relied on opium sales to finance their operations until July 2000. It was then that the regime's leader Mullah Mohammed Omar issued a ban on the drug trade because he claimed that it conflicted with Islamic law. Less than a year later, a United Nations (U.N.) delegation visited the areas of the country where poppies were traditionally grown and found nothing.
"There are no poppies. It's amazing," the former head of the U.N. Drug Control Program, Antonio Maria Costa said.
By January 2002, the U.S. military had the Taliban on the run and the poppy fields had returned in earnest. At the same time, the U.S. and NATO nations signed a worldwide ban on opium production.
Also in 2002, the U.N. released a report describing the quick return of the Afghan opium trade.
"There are reliable indications that opium cultivation has resumed since October 2001 in some areas (such as the southern provinces Uruzgan, Helmand, Nangarhar, and Kandahar), following the effective implementation of the Taliban ban on cultivation in 2001, not only because of the breakdown in law and order, but also because the farmers are desperate to find a means of survival following the prolonged drought."
In 2007, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime released a report which found that during 2006, opium production increased by 50 percent over the previous year.
Afghanistan produced a record of 6,700 metric tons in 2006 and was responsible for 92 percent of the world's opium production. This rise corresponded with the dramatic fall of Southeast Asia's opium production, which in contrast only produced 370 metric tons that same year. In the past, it has been reported that the CIA is involved in Afghanistan's opium production or at least in protecting it.
In March 2002, a U.S. foreign intelligence official speaking on the condition of anonymity reminded a reporter with Newsmax of the CIA's record of involvement with the international drug trade.
"The CIA did almost the identical thing during the Vietnam War, which had catastrophic consequences--the increase in the heroin trade in the USA beginning in the 1970's is directly attributable to the CIA. The CIA has been complicit in the global drug trade for years, so I guess they just want to carry on their favorite business. The sole reason why organized crime groups and terrorists have the power that they do is all because of drug trafficking. Like the old saying, 'those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.'"
Afghanistan's 2010 crop was nearly cut in half from the previous year's production due to a blight hitting the poppy fields. However, the reduced supply tripled the price of opium, earning the farmers $605 million that year, up 38 percent from 2009. The current high price is now convincing many of that country's farmers to give up on growing traditional crops such as wheat and enter opium production.
In addition to being the world's number one opium supplier, Afghanistan is now the largest producer of hashish, producing between 1,500 and 3,500 tons annually.
While the U.S. government has always claimed to be making strides in the eradication of Afghanistan's opium fields, the U.N. reports that only 5,351 hectares of opium were eradicated in 2009, less than four percent of the amount planted. In 2010, the amount of land used for poppy cultivation was 123,000 hectares, with the amount reportedly eradicated, unchanged from 2009.
By the end of 2012, 154,000 hectares were being devoted to the poppy crop, according to a U.N. report.
Though Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world's opium supply, a mere two percent of the drug is actually seized within that country's borders.
Afghanistan could now be fairly described as a 'narco-state' and the role that the U.S. military has played in that nation's illicit evolution cannot be ignored.
As of January 2017, there were approximately 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 15 years after invading that country.
As of March 19, 2017, a total of 2,392 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan.
[Featured Image by John Moore/Getty Images]