WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in 2013 despite years of counter-narcotics efforts that have cost the United States $7.6 billion, the US government watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction spending said on Tuesday.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghan farmers grew an “unprecedented” 209,000 hectares of opium poppy in 2013, surpassing the previous high of 193,000 hectares in 2007, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.
“In past years, surges in opium poppy cultivation have been met by a coordinated response from the US government and coalition partners, which has led to a temporary decline in levels of opium production,” Sopko said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top US officials.
“The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts,” he said.
Afghanistan produces more than 80 per cent of the world’s illicit opium, and profits from the illegal trade help fund the Taleban insurgency. US government officials blame poppy production for fueling corruption and instability, undermining good government and subverting the legal economy.
The United States has spent $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan since launching the programmes following the start of the 2001 war, it said.
Sopko said the UN drug office estimated the value of poppy cultivation and opium products produced in Afghanistan in 2013 at about $3 billion, a 50 per cent increase over the $2 billion estimated in 2012.
“With deteriorating security in many parts of Afghanistan and low levels of eradication of poppy fields, further increases in cultivation are likely in 2014,” Sopko said in the letter.
He said affordable deep-well technology brought to Afghanistan over the past decade had enabled Afghans to turn 200,000 hectares of desert in southwestern Afghanistan into arable land, much of it devoted to poppy production.
The US Embassy in Kabul, in a letter responding to the findings, said the rise in poppy cultivation and decline in eradication efforts by provincial authorities was “disappointing news”. It said US officials were helping Afghans develop the ability to lead and manage a long-term counter-narcotics effort.