Poppy cultivation in 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.
“To put it bluntly, these numbers spell failure, and the outlook is not encouraging,” John Sopko, the special inspector general, said in prepared remarks at the launch of his office’s new report.
How the heroin trade explains the US-UK failure in Afghanistan
The amount grown last year is enough to produce 900 tons of export-quality heroin, Sigar said, and the money from sales is helping fuel insurgent violence across Afghanistan.
In an effort to cut back on the cash flow, that were being used to process opium, including in the poppy-rich southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.
But Sigar said it was hard to measure the effectiveness of the expensive air campaign, as new labs can be set up in three or four days.
“There is also the risk that expanded airstrikes by Afghan and international forces could result in civilian deaths, alienate rural populations and strengthen the insurgency,” the report states.
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.
“Their overall impact has been negligible,” Sopko said.