The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report on June 14, 2018, identifying how U.S. counternarcotics programs and policies in Afghanistan have evolved. On June 19, 2018, SIGAR representatives, Jaryd Bern, Strategic Advisor and Director of Congressional Relations and Government Affairs and his team, met with Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, Political Counselor, Angiza Nasiree, and Second Secretary, Abdullah Khodadad, to discuss the key findings regarding the U.S. counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2017.
The report details how the Departments of Defense and State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Drug Enforcement Administration tried to deter farmers and traffickers from participating in the cultivation and trade of opium, build Afghan government counter-drug capacity and develop the country’s licit economy. The report identifies 13 key findings and 11 lessons regarding the counternarcotics effort in Afghanistan since 2002. The report recommends 13 actions that can be taken by Congress or executive branch agencies to strengthen U.S. counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan.
The drug trade remains a major issue in Afghanistan. Opium production and sales of fuel terrorist networks in Afghanistan and perpetuate corruption. The UN estimated that opium production in Afghanistan reached an all-time high in 2017. As the global demand for drugs has sky-rocketed, so has production in Afghanistan. As President Ashraf Ghani emphasized at the Kabul Process conference in February 2018, the global demand for drugs has contributed to the increase in supply; therefore, it requires a global response from the international community and is a shared problem.
In the meeting, Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib discussed how the National Unity Government (NUG) has worked to address the roots of the drug trade in Afghanistan through legislative reforms to criminalize money laundering and other acts associated with the drug trade while tightening law enforcement around those participating in the drug trade, as well as working to provide alternative livelihoods for farmers and develop the agricultural economy and market access. Anti-corruption reforms in the government and prosecutions of high-ranking government officials involved in drug-smuggling and other illicit activities are also on-going. As a result of these efforts, drugs confiscated in 2017, such as opium and morphine, equaled 231 tons with an estimated worth of $270 million.
A Counternarcotics High Commission was established, with meetings conducted quarterly and chaired by President Ashraf Ghani or CEO Abdullah Abdullah.
The government worked on amending the counter-narcotics law and its related frameworks and policies, as well as instituting a number of laws and procedures to prevent money laundering for the income generated from drug-related activities.
The government has taken decisive action to arrest drug smugglers and intercept smuggling. The Attorney General’s Office assigned Anti-Narcotics Prosecutors at every airport across the country. In 2017, 8,600 drugs traffickers were arrested; 155 drug processing laboratories were destroyed; 12 drug storage units were destroyed, and 4,865 hectares of land under poppy cultivation were destroyed between years 2015- 2017. The number of successful interdictions increased over the past three years, with numbers peaking in 2017. Capacity building efforts have been undertaken to increase the National Interdiction Unity’s ability to independently plan and execute operations.
Alternative livelihood programs facilitate the strengthening and diversification of licit rural livelihoods. There has been a particular focus on subsistence and marginalized farmers and laborers, resulting in a reduction of poppy production in provinces where counternarcotics efforts have been prioritized. Programs focus on research and extension services, improved agricultural production methods, and agriculture infrastructure development. Over 62,000 farmers have directly benefitted from different alternative crop programs. A regional dialogue has also been initiated to explore how alternative crops can be promoted to regional markets. The UNODC recently teamed up with the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics to host a two-day conference on “Promoting Afghanistan’s Alternative Development Initiatives among Regional and International Partners” in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
The government has taken decisive steps to criminalize illicit activities related to the narcotics trade and continues to strengthen law enforcement capacity to intercept drug smuggling and arrest and prosecute those involved in the drug trade. Simultaneously the government is investing in agricultural programs that offer viable alternative livelihoods to farmers who cultivate opium. These activities remain challenging to implement due to insecurity and competing priorities across the government. The government is focused on this issue as a long-term one which will persist in Afghanistan due to an inflated global demand for opium, and lack of a coordinated global response.