10
Jun
07

Afghan Opium Production Timeline

 

1982-1991: Afghan Opium Production Skyrockets

Afghan opium production rises from 250 tons in 1982 to 2,000 tons in 1991, coinciding with CIA support and funding of the mujaheddin. Alfred McCoy, a professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin, says US and Pakistani intelligence officials sanctioned the rebels’ drug trafficking because of their fierce opposition to the Soviets: “If their local allies were involved in narcotics trafficking, it didn’t trouble [the] CIA. They were willing to keep working with people who were heavily involved in narcotics.” For instance, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a rebel leader who received about half of all the CIA’s covert weapons, was known to be a major heroin trafficker. Charles Cogan, who directs the CIA’s operation in Afghanistan, later claims he was unaware of the drug trade: “We found out about it later on.” (Weaver 5/1996; Rosen 9/30/2001)

1984: Bin Laden Develops Ties with Pakistani ISI and Afghan Warlord

Bin Laden moves to Peshawar, a Pakistani town bordering Afghanistan, and helps run a front organization for the mujaheddin known as Maktab al-Khidamar (MAK), which funnels money, arms, and fighters from the outside world into the Afghan war. (Weaver 1/24/2000) “MAK [is] nurtured by Pakistan’s state security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, the CIA’s primary conduit for conducting the covert war against Moscow’s occupation.” (Moran 8/24/1998) Bin Laden becomes closely tied to the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and greatly strengthens Hekmatyar’s opium smuggling operations. (Maurus and Rock 9/14/2001) Hekmatyar, who also has ties with bin Laden, the CIA, and drug running, has been called “an ISI stooge and creation.” (Erikson 11/15/2001)

Mid-1980s: ISI Head Regularly Meets with Bin Laden

According to controversial author Gerald Posner, ex-CIA officials claim that Gen. Akhtar Abdul Rahman, Pakistani ISI’s head from 1980 to 1987, regularly meets bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan. The ISI and bin Laden form a partnership that forces Afghan tribal warlords to pay a “tax” on the opium trade. By 1985, bin Laden and the ISI are splitting annual profits of up to $100 million a year. (Posner 2003, pp. 29)

Mid-1996-October 2001: Ariana Airlines Becomes Transport Arm of Al-Qaeda

In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. (Williams 11/18/2001) About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002) Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. (Farah 2/17/2002) Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines, but the US fails to act for several years. The US does press the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. (Williams 11/18/2001) Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. (Williams 11/18/2001)

Late 1996: Bin Laden Becomes Active in Opium Trade

Bin Laden establishes and maintains a major role in opium drug trade, soon after moving the base of his operations to Afghanistan. Opium money is vital to keeping the Taliban in power and funding bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. One report estimates that bin Laden takes up to 10 percent of Afghanistan’s drug trade by early 1999. This would give him a yearly income of up to $1 billion out of $6.5 to $10 billion in annual drug profits from within Afghanistan. (Huband 11/28/2001) The US monitors bin Laden’s satellite phone starting in 1996 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). According to one newspaper, “Bin Laden was heard advising Taliban leaders to promote heroin exports to the West.” (Campbell 9/27/2001)

July 2000: Taliban Bans Poppy Growing, but Benefits from Resulting Price Rise

“œThe Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan not only engenders illegal things forbidden but launches effice struggles against illicit drugs as these drugs are a great threat to personality, wisdom, life, health, economy, and morality.”A sign put up by the Taliban reads: “œThe Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan not only engenders illegal things forbidden but launches effice struggles against illicit drugs as these drugs are a great threat to personality, wisdom, life, health, economy, and morality.” [Source: BBC]The Taliban bans poppy growing in Afghanistan. As a result, the opium yield drops dramatically in 2001, from 3,656 tons to 185 tons. Of that, 83 percent is from Northern Alliance-controlled lands. This is supposedly done in response to Western pressure. (Harris 11/25/2001; Hopkins and Taylor 2/21/2002; Reuters 3/3/2002) However, United Nations officials later suggest that the ban was actually used by the Taliban to drive up their drug profits. According to these officials, for several years, the Taliban had stockpiled over half of their annual opium harvest in a series of warehouses around the country. When the ban begins, a kilogram of opium sells for around $44 wholesale, but one year later the price rises to $400. (Leinwand, Locy, and Walt 10/16/2001) Time magazine will later suggest that the ban was the idea of al-Qaeda’s financial experts working with Haji Juma Khan (see December 2001 and After) and other alleged top Afghan drug traffickers. The ban “meant huge profits for the Taliban and their trafficker friends who were sitting on large stockpiles when prices soared.” (McGirk 8/2/2004)

May 17, 2001: US Gives Taliban Millions for Poppy Ban

Secretary of State Powell announces that the US is granting $43 million in aid to the Taliban government, purportedly to assist hungry farmers who are starving since the destruction of their opium crop occurred in January on orders of the Taliban. (Scheer 5/22/2001) Powell promises that the US will “continue to look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans.” (Scheer 4/13/2004) And in fact, in the same month Powell asks Congress to give Afghanistan $7 million more, to be used for regional energy cooperation and to fight child prostitution. (Coll 2004, pp. 559) This follows $113 million given by the US in 2000 for humanitarian aid. (US Department of State 12/11/2001) A Newsday editorial notes that the Taliban “are a decidedly odd choice for an outright gift… Why are we sending these people money—so much that Washington is, in effect, the biggest donor of aid to the Taliban regime?” (Newsday 5/29/2001) However, there were allegations that the drug ban was merely a means for the Taliban to drive up prices (see July 2000). In fact, according to a March 2001 State Department report, “Prospects for progress on drug-control efforts in Afghanistan remain dim as long as the country remains at war. Nothing indicates that either the Taliban or the Northern Alliance intend to take serious action to destroy heroin or morphine base laboratories, or stop drug trafficking.” (Leinwand, Locy, and Walt 10/16/2001)

September 27, 2001: ISI Has Connections to Taliban, Drug Trade, CIA

The Sydney Morning Herald discusses the connections between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI, and the ISI’s long-standing control over the Taliban. Drugs are a big part of their operation: “opium cultivation and heroin production in Pakistan’s northern tribal belt and adjoining Afghanistan were a vital offshoot of the ISI-CIA cooperation. It succeeded in turning some of the Soviet troops into addicts. Heroin sales in Europe and the US, carried out through an elaborate web of deception, transport networks, couriers, and payoffs, offset the cost of the decade-long war in Afghanistan.” (Bedi 9/27/2001)

November 21, 2001: Opium Boom in Afghanistan

The Independent runs a story with the title: “Opium Farmers Rejoice at the Defeat of the Taliban.” Massive opium planting is underway all across Afghanistan. (Parry 11/21/2001) Four days later, the Observer runs a story headlined, “Victorious Warlords Set to Open the Opium Floodgates.” It states that farmers are being encouraged by warlords allied with the US to plant “as much opium as possible.” (Harris 11/25/2001)

November 29, 2001: US and Pakistan Return Convicted Drug Warlord to Afghanistan

Ayub Afridi, a well-known Afghan warlord and drug baron, is released from prison in Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan with the apparent approval of both the US and Pakistani governments. Afridi had just begun serving a seven year sentence after being convicted of attempting to smuggle over six tons of hashish into Belgium. The Pakistani government gave no explanation for his release nor pointed to any law allowing the release. The Asia Times claims, “Afridi was a key player in the Afghan war of resistance against the Soviet Union’s occupying troops in the decade up to 1989.” The CIA lacked the billions of dollars need to fund the Afghan resistance. “As a result, they decided to generate funds through the poppy-rich Afghan soil and heroin production and smuggling to finance the Afghan war. Afridi was the kingpin of this plan. All of the major Afghan warlords, except for the Northern Alliance’s Ahmed Shah Massoud, who had his own opium fiefdom in northern Afghanistan, were a part of Afridi’s coalition of drug traders in the CIA-sponsored holy war against the Soviets.” The Asia Times speculates that Afridi, an ethic Pashtun, was released to help unify Pashtun warlord support for the new US supported Afghan government. Afridi also served three years in a US prison for drug smuggling in the mid-1990s. (Shahzad 12/4/2001)

April 1, 2002: Afghan Opium Crackdown Fails

An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields.An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields. [Source: Shaul Schwarz/ Corbis]“American officials have quietly abandoned their hopes to reduce Afghanistan’s opium production substantially this year and are now bracing for a harvest large enough to inundate the world’s heroin and opium markets with cheap drugs.” They want to see the new Afghan government make at least a token effort to destroy some opium, but it appears that the new government is not doing even that. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai had announced a total ban on opium cultivation, processing, and trafficking, but it appears to be a total sham. The new harvest is so large that it could be “enough opium to stockpile for two or two and a half more years.” (Golden 4/1/2002) Starting this month, Karzai’s government offers farmers $500 for every acre of poppies they destroy, but farmers can earn as much as $6,400 per acre for the crop. The program is eventually cancelled when it runs out of money to pay farmers. (Shah 3/27/2003)

July 6, 2002: Afghan Vice President Assassinated

Afghan Vice President Hajji Abdul Qadir is assassinated by Afghan warlords. Some believe that Qadir was assassinated by opium warlords upset by Qadir’s efforts to reduce the rampant opium farming and processing that has taken place since the US occupation. Qadir had been overseeing a Western-backed eradication program, and had recently complained that the money meant to be given to reward farmers for not planting opium was in fact not reaching the farmers. Additionally, Qadir “had long been suspected of enriching himself through involvement in the opium trade.” (Filkins 7/8/2002; Sly 7/8/2002)

August 11, 2002: Afghans Directly Producing and Exporting Heroin in Broad Daylight

An Afghan refines opium into heroin.An Afghan refines opium into heroin. [Source: BBC]In the past, Afghanistan had mostly exported raw opium, but now many new refineries are converting the opium into heroin. The British government has spent £20 million to eradicate opium, but the program is marred by corruption and largely seen as a failure. The new heroin factories are said to be “working in broad daylight.” There has been a rash of bombings and assassinations in Afghanistan as various factions fight over drug profits. Reporters for a British newspaper are able to determine the precise location of some of these factories, but the US-led forces in Afghanistan are doing nothing to stop them. (Burke 8/11/2002)

March 14, 2003: Afghanistan Becomes Number One Heroin Producer

The Afghan government warns that unless the international community hands over the aid it promised, Afghanistan will slip back into its role as the world’s premier heroin producer. The country’s foreign minister warns Afghanistan could become a “narco-mafia state.” (BBC 3/17/2003) A United Nations study later in the month notes that Afghanistan is once again the world’s number one heroin producer, producing 3,750 tons in 2002. Farmers are growing more opium poppies than ever throughout the country, including areas previously free of the crop. (Shah 3/27/2003)

November 2003: US Military Frustrated They Cannot Fight Drugs in Afghanistan

Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the nonprofit International Crisis Group, later says that during a trip to Afghanistan in November 2003, he is told by US military commanders and State Department officials that they are frustrated by rules preventing them from fighting Afghanistan’s booming illegal drug trade. Author James Risen notes the US military’s rules of engagement in Afghanistan states that if US soldiers discover illegal drugs they “could” destroy them, which is “very different from issuing firm rules stating that US forces must destroy any drugs discovered.” An ex-Green Beret later claims that he was specifically ordered to ignore heroin and opium when his unit discovered them on patrol. Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles, who fights in vain for tougher rules of engagement (see November 2004), will later complain, “In some cases [US troops] were destroying drugs, but in others they weren’t. [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld didn’t want drugs to become a core mission.” (Risen 2006, pp. 152-162)

2004: Afghan Poppy Farmers Harvest Record Opium Crop

Opium production in Afghanistan, 1980-2005. Based on United Nations data.Opium production in Afghanistan, 1980-2005. Based on United Nations data. [Source: UNODC/MCN] (click image to enlarge)Roughly 4,600 tons of opium are harvested in Afghanistan during 2004, according to a December 2004 statement by Russian Federal Drug Control Service Oleg Kharichkin. By the end of the year, more than 206,000 hectares in Afghanistan are reportedly planted with the crop. The Russians believe that 2005 production will approach 5,000 tons. (PakTribune (Islamabad) 12/22/2004)

Spring 2004: Conditions In Afghanistan Deteriorate

It is reported that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. (Gannon 5/2004)

August 14, 2004: Evidence Mounts Afghan Drug Profits Help Fund Al-Qaeda, but US Troops Do Nothing

The Independent reports that “there is mounting evidence that [Afghanistan’s] booming opium trade is funding terrorists linked to al-Qaeda.” The governor of Kandahar, in a joint press conference with a US general, states, “One of the most important things prolonging terrorism is drugs. We are 100 percent sure that some of the top terrorists are involved in drug smuggling, and eradication of this industry would not only benefit Afghanistan but would be a step towards eradicating terrorism [worldwide].” The Independent comments, “Patrolling US troops routinely turn a blind eye to opium farming and trading, ignoring poppy fields, and have recruited warlords suspected of being drug dealers to fight al-Qaeda.” Troops are explicitly told not to engage in drug eradication (see November 2003). It is believed that the US and allied military forces are overstretched in Afghanistan, and would face a violent backlash if they took more steps to confront drug trafficking. The Independent notes, “The drugs business is widely believed to have corrupted officials up to cabinet level, and many Afghans fear that they may have exchanged Taliban fundamentalism for rule by narco-mafias in the future.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has raised the possibility of using the 17,000 US soldiers still stationed in Afghanistan to take a more active role against the drug trade. (Meo 8/14/2004) However, nine months later, no such change of policy will be evident. It will be reported that US and Afghan officials decided in late 2004 that a more aggressive anti-poppy effort is “too risky.” (Cloud and Gall 5/22/2005)

December 14, 2004: Report: US Has Abandoned Its Hunt for Bin Laden

The Daily Telegraph reports that “the search for [bin Laden] the world’s most wanted man has all but come to a halt because of Pakistan’s refusal to permit cross-border raids from Afghanistan, according to CIA officials.” Even spy missions by unmanned Predator drones need Pakistani military approval involving a lengthy chain of command that frequently causes delays. Most accounts have bin Laden still alive and living in the near-lawless Pakistan and Afghanistan border region. US officials believe bin Laden and his deputies are being hidden by sympathetic local tribesmen, who are continuing to fund his operations from opium sales. (Gedye 12/14/2004)

March 3, 2005: State Department Says Afghanistan Is on Verge of Becoming a Narcotics State

A State Department report on world drug production suggests that, as the Associated Press puts it, “Afghanistan has been unable to contain opium poppy production and is on the verge of becoming a narcotics state.” The area in Afghanistan devoted to poppy cultivation (the raw material for opium and heroin) in 2004 more than tripled the figure for 2003. The report suggests this situation “represents an enormous threat to world stability.” (Gedda 3/4/2005) Drug eradication efforts have been almost completely ineffectual. For instance, in May 2005 it will be reported that Afghanistan’s US-trained Central Poppy Eradication Force has destroyed less than 250 acres, well short of its original goal of 37,000 acres. (Cloud and Gall 5/22/2005) The drug economy now accounts for between a third and half of the country’s economic output. The World Bank estimates that opium cultivation can generate at least 12 times as much income as alternative crops. (Bosco 5/18/2005)

April 10, 2006: Massive Security Breach at US Base in Afghanistan

Small flash computer drives for sale in a bazaar just outside the Bagram US military base.Small flash computer drives for sale in a bazaar just outside the Bagram US military base. [Source: NBC]The Los Angeles Times reveals that stolen computer drives containing important classified information can be purchased cheaply at the local bazaar just outside the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Shop owners at the bazaar say a variety of Afghan menial workers at the base continually sell them equipment stolen from inside the base. The drives had been sold cheaply as used equipment and only recently did a reporter discover some of them contained classified information. The drives purchased by reporters include:
bullet Deployment rosters that identify about 700 US soldiers and their social security numbers.
bullet Maps showing the locations of Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan (see January 2005).
bullet Presentations that name suspected militants targeted or “kill or capture.”
bullet A list of officials in the Afghan government profiting from the illegal drug trade (see Early 2005).
bullet Documents and maps suggest the Taliban are staging attacks from across the Pakistan border with Pakistani support (see Late 2004-Early 2005).
bullet A classified briefing about capabilities of a special radar used to find where mortar rounds have been fired, including a map of where the radar was deployed in Iraq in March 2004.
bullet A January 2005 presentation identifying a dozen Afghan governors and police chiefs as “problem makers” involved in kidnappings, support for the Taliban, and/or attacks on US troops.
bullet Discussions of US efforts to “remove” or “marginalize” problematic Afghan officials. One governor on the list was removed from his post in December 2005 after he was caught with almost 20,000 pounds of opium in his office. But President Hamid Karzai then appointed him to Afghanistan’s upper parliament. (Watson 4/10/2006)
bullet Some psychological operations are detailed, including attempts to manage the Afghan media. For instance, one list contains the item, “Prepare radio news stories for local stations highlighting Afghan National Police support.” (Watson 4/12/2006)
bullet “Scores of military documents marked ‘secret,’ describing intelligence-gathering methods and information.”
bullet The names, photographs, and telephone numbers of Afghan spies informing on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Some spies are described as having networks of informants working for them.
bullet Descriptions of meetings of Taliban commanders held in Pakistan.
bullet A file describing the layout of a US Special Forces base in Afghanistan complete with photographs of its perimeter and procedures for defending the base if attacked. (Watson 4/14/2006) The US immediately launches an investigation into the security breach. One US official says, “We’re obviously concerned that certain sources or assets have been compromised.” (Watson 4/14/2006) Several days after the first press reports, US soldiers buy up every computer drive from the bazaar that they can find, presumably to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. But within two weeks, there are plenty of drives for sale again, some containing classified information. One shopkeeper says he had been selling pilfered US military computer drives for four years. “I may have sold thousands of [them] since I have come and opened this shop.” (Watson 4/25/2006) A month after the security breach was first reported, shopkeepers at the bazaar say they still receive goods from inside the US base, but not at the rate they once did. (Straziuso 5/8/2006)

September 2, 2006: Afghanistan’s Opium Production Hits Record Levels Again

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan by province, 2005. Based on satellite surveys and other analysis by the UN. Redder provinces produce more.Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan by province, 2005. Based on satellite surveys and other analysis by the UN. Redder provinces produce more. [Source: UNODC/MCN] (click image to enlarge)The United Nations says Afghanistan’s latest opium harvest is the biggest ever. The harvest was 6,100 metric tons (enough for 610 tons of heroin), an increase of nearly 50 percent from the year before. This is 92 percent of the world total and 30 percent more than global consumption. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN’s drug office, says, “It is indeed very bad, you can say it is out of control.” He says the Taliban have profited from the drug trade, and they promise protection to growers who expand their operations. 400,000 acres were planted with poppies in 2006; about ten percent of these poppy fields were destroyed by the Afghan government’s eradication program. About five percent was destroyed in the previous year. (Gall 9/2/2006; Pennington 9/3/2006)

 

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