I have written before about how getting rid of poppy production has been a major goal of US policymakers in Afghanistan. They have targeted a large number of airstrikes in the province of Helmand, seen as the major source of poppy cultivation. This is due to the belief among US policymakers that the production of heroin is the main source of income for the Taliban and that if farmers could be persuaded to grow other crops, then the Taliban would be weakened and then eliminated. Experts have cast doubts on this theory, arguing that the Taliban is not that dependent on income from the heroin trade and that there are sound economic reasons for Afghan farmers to grow poppies that have little to do with larger political issues.
This policy has not worked in the past despite repeated attempts and now comes a new official report from the US government that confirms yet another failure.
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan hit a record high last year, a US government watchdog has said, describing American-funded counternarcotics efforts in the war-torn country as a failure.
Since the American-led invasion in late 2001, the US has spent about $8.6bn on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, yet the country remains the world’s largest producer of opium.
According to a new study by the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (Sigar), opium cultivation reached about 328,000 hectares (1,265 square miles) in 2017 – a 63% jump from the year before and the greatest amount tallied since 2002. [My emphasis-MS]
The report found that no program by the US, the Afghans or by coalition partners had succeeded in causing lasting reductions in poppy or opium production.
Over and over again one reads in the reports that the US is trying to gain control of Helmand province and seems to never succeed.
But despite these repeated failures, don’t expect any changes. This is because the US seems to have no viable options in Afghanistan. They are in a stalemate that has lasted 17 years and seem to be resigned to just spinning their wheels. As people have suggested, the US has not fought a 17-year war in that country, they have a fought a one-year war 17 times, with only the number changing with each succeeding year.
As any student of history will tell you, Afghanistan has been a graveyard for imperial powers from time immemorial, the most recent being the British, the Russians, and now the US. The only question is not if but when the US decides to cut its losses and withdraw.