Not-So-Dope Dilemma

The US has spent $1.5m a day since 2001 in Afghanistan fighting a war against opium. It has poured countless amounts of men, money and more into the Taliban-run trade that amasses over $200m-a-year: so why is this aggressive campaign doing virtually nothing to combat the deadly reach of a little flower, and why is it so important that the United States ditch all their efforts against it?

The war on opium in Afghanistan ties deeply into the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. Opium production is widely accepted by the people, and even by the government in Afghanistan. Farmers don’t even attempt to hide the crops they’re growing – that is the 221,000 hectares of poppy under cultivation. When US and British forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, poppies were grown on around 74,000 hectares. In 2017, four days before an operation to bomb the Taliban’s opium labs named the Iron Tempest, poppy cultivation increased more than 120,000 hectares in a single season. The corruption and confusion in the government and the longevity of the war has allowed opium to prosper. 

The problem with the United States’ operations against the drugs in Afghanistan lies in wasted resources. Heroin and opium in Afghanistan is not an industrial process. When the term “opium lab” is mentioned, one might picture white coats and clean floors and glass test tubes and the scientific process that goes into making these drugs. After all, the US has been treating these labs as such. They use F22’s to bomb them- a costly procedure, as these planes cost $35k an hour to fly.  These opium labs are more of a workshop- makeshift and simple, these workshops are easily recreated. Because of the fumes that the process creates, these workshops are usually out in the open or under a lean-to. Bombs and raids aren’t necessary, especially not F22’s. When one opium lab is destroyed, two more will replace it.  

A survey by the UN done in 2018 showed that opium production had gone down 20% since 2017, but not because of military force. An extreme drought in the north caused a loss in crops. Mother Nature did a better job with killing the opium production than the US.

but not because of military force. An extreme drought in the north caused a loss in crops. Mother Nature did a better job with killing the opium production than the US.

Opium now accounts for around a third of Afghanistan’s GDP. It is the country’s most lucrative crop and provides almost 600,000 full-time jobs. Opium is deeply woven into the Afghan community, government and terrorist organizations. The United States has not made a dent in the industry- the US doesn’t event benefit in any major way if the opium production finally ceases. It is wasted resources, and the US needs to get out.