The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), in general, and the United States led war in Afghanistan, in specific, has led to several unique national security issues within the United States as well as several regional security issues that have arisen in the Central Asia.
Most importantly, why is terrorism financing [in growth of terrorist network] through drug trafficking from Afghanistan an extreme threat to U.S. national security? Research does indicate that since the 1980s and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the region has become the world’s largest supplier of opium. Controversy surrounds the idea that Afghanistan being the world’s largest narcotics producer would be a major threat to U.S. national security. There is no direct link between opium production and funding to insurgent groups within Afghanistan. Also, it would appear that major opium cultivation locations within Afghanistan exist in locations that are not Taliban controlled provinces, which would point away from the idea that opium cultivation is being used to fund insurgency. In addition, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) opinion is that “Opiates originating in Afghanistan threaten the health and well-being of people in many regions of the world. Their illicit trade also adversely impacts governance, security, stability and development—in Afghanistan, in its neighbours, in the broader region and beyond.” (The Global Afghan Opium Trade 2011)
Opium that is being cultivated in Afghanistan is being trafficked to other Central Asian nations leading to a destabilizing influence across the region due to the illegal network that has been created to facilitate narcotics trafficking. Opium produced in Afghanistan is mostly destined for other nations within Central Asia, including, “Although Afghan heroin is only directly trafficked to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia, it flows from there to the rest of the world; in 2009, UNODC estimates that 150 tons of Afghan heroin reached Europe, 120 tons Asia and 45 tons Africa.” (The Global Afghan Opium Trade 2011)
It has also been estimated that “In Afghanistan and elsewhere, transnational organized crime groups were the main beneficiaries of this extremely profitable trade. UNODC estimates that the Afghan Taliban earned around US$155 million in 2009, Afghan drug traffickers US$2.2 billion, and Afghan farmers US$440 million.” (The Global Afghan Opium Trade 2011) Without much doubt, opium cultivation in Afghanistan is a cash crop. With the amount of opium that is being produced has the potential to turn Afghanistan into “the world’s first true narco-state,” said one international law enforcement official, who did not want to be quoted criticizing the Afghan government. “The opium trade is a much bigger part of the economy already than narcotics ever were in Bolivia or Colombia.” (Nordland 2013) This will have direct national security implications for the United States.
If Afghanistan were to become a truly narco-state there would be no stable government that would be willing to assist the international community in ending the cultivation of opium. Also, economic sanctions against a narco-state would potentially make the situation worse due to the fact that an opium producing nation with economic sanctions would have no choice but to continue to engage in drug trafficking to support domestic needs. In addition to this, funding from opium cultivation and trafficking can be used by insurgent groups to purchase weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and generally support insurgency. Also, narcotics trafficking routes can also be used to transport other materials (weapons and people) to perpetrate terrorist attacks against the American homeland.
Direct evidence that points to opium cultivation in Afghanistan being used to support the Taliban or other Afghan insurgency groups is lacking. However, there is more than ample evidence that indicates that Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium. This will have a direct impact on U.S. national security due to the fact that funding from opium cultivation and trafficking may be used to purchase WMDs and other weapons, trafficking routes used to move narcotics across Central Asia can also be used to move people and weapons that can be used to perpetrate terrorist attacks against the American homeland and finally, the U.S. Department of State has the following to say “fighting transnational crime must go hand in hand with fighting terrorists, if we want to ensure that we “surface them.” (Luna n.d.)”Already, we are seeing a growing trend of possible links in some regions, and, of equal concern, evidence that may show a more direct nexus between transnational organized criminal networks and terror organizations. We cannot make progress on terrorism unless we dismantle the illicit architecture that enables the financing of terror, facilitation of international terrorist travel and other criminal enterprises. Anticorruption, counterterrorist financing, anti-money laundering, border security, and other law enforcement tools will help expose terrorists from hiding and to identify any sleeper cells and support networks. Other anti-crime efforts can help us make inroads on many fronts, including enhancing intelligence collection and the dismantlement of illicit finance nodes.” (Luna n.d.)
As the lines between terrorist or insurgent groups and organized crime groups are starting to blur, it is probable that traditional “gang violence” that is occurring in the United States that is connected to narcotics trafficking will increase due to narcotics and funding that is directly connected to opium cultivation in Afghanistan.
- Literature Review
The major research issue that will be addressed in this report is the impact that narcotics cultivation in Afghanistan has on funding Afghan insurgency and more specifically what impact this source of funding will have on U.S. national security. The core of the issue will be what impact, if any, does opium cultivation in Afghanistan have on levels of insurgency (i.e. is opium cultivation/narcotics trafficking being used to fund insurgent groups). “Areas under insurgent influence, such as the border between Iraq and Turkey and the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, also provide a key competitive advantage for organized crime groups as those areas lie beyond the reach of law enforcement. If global organized crime groups managing the opiate trade pocketed only 10 per cent of the profit, they would have earned at least $7 billion in 2009. All these illicit profits are laundered in one way or another, a process that undermines the vulnerable economies of areas such as the Balkans and Central Asia.” (The Global Afghan Opium Trade 2011) In addition to this, the majority of cultivation of opium is taking place in regions of Afghanistan that are unstable as in not under direct control of the Taliban regime and in areas that have not been stabilized by the International Security Assistance Force(ISAF), this instability had led to the increased production of opium due to the fact that the agrarian populations in the most devastated regions, “Taliban insurgents took advantage of insecurity in several provinces to assist opium farmers and win popular support — protecting an important form of income for their operations. Opium cultivation has increased the most wherever there has been insecurity.” (Nordland 2013) Again, this will be due to the fact that the farming populations in unstable regions of Afghanistan will have little to no choice but to continue to cultivate opium as a cash crop. The Taliban and other insurgent groups will take this instability to exploit levels of opium cultivation in the region.
A secondary issue to be addressed will be whether and/or how much of an impact opium production in Afghanistan will have on U.S. national security. “The Taliban are also believed to derive significant income from opium production. The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime estimated that between 2005 and 2008 the Taliban accrued $350 million to $650 million from the trade. Taliban profits generally come from traditional taxes collected from Taliban-held areas and from transit and trade levies charged to drug traffickers. These levies have been systematically imposed in southern and western provinces since 2005. Furthermore, the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime’s Kabul field office found that larger trafficking and production networks have been consolidating within Afghanistan, as the Taliban have been helping provide steady and powerful trade routes.” (Quigley-Jones 2012) This secondary issue focuses on insurgent groups and organized crime groups working in conjunction with one another to traffic opium out of Afghanistan and into other Central Asian and European nations. The large profits that the Taliban are gaining from opium cultivation can be used not only to support insurgency but also to fund organized crime/gang violence in the United States, these actions will be undertaken to maintain Afghanistan’s hold on being the major world opium cultivator.
As a starting point to the investigation of Afghanistan opium production and the potential impact on U.S. national security, it is first important to understand the scope of the problem or put differently, how much opium is being produced. To put things in perspective in terms of size Afghanistan is 251,825 sq. miles or 652,225 km² that is roughly the size of the state of Texas. In an area roughly the size of a U.S. state, David McDonald (2007) in his text Drugs in Afghanistan: Opium, Outlands and Scorpion Tales states that “according to the UNODC, in 2002 there were 74,000 hectares planted with poppy while for the same year the U.S. claimed there were only 30,750 hectares, less than 50 percent of the UNODC figure, This also means that according to U.S. figures by 2003 cultivation had doubled as their estimate for that year was 61,000 hectares.” (2007. p 35) Clearly, Afghanistan cultivates a substantial amount of opium throughout the year. If size is taken as a factor in the amount of opium that is produced each year, cultivation of narcotics is clearly a cash crop if not the cash crop in Afghanistan. Properly harvested one acre of opium can produce three to five kilograms of raw opium. With the ability to produce large quantities of opium from smaller plots of land, connected with a history of opium cultivation and the lack of basic infrastructure (such as electricity, running water, education) it is unlikely that cultivation of opium in Afghanistan will ever be completely eradicated.
While there is more than ample evidence to support the fact that Afghanistan has become the world’s largest producer of opium that was not always the case. In fact “during the last quarter century, Afghanistan has developed to become the leading producer of poppy and exporter of opium and heroin…at the beginning of the 1980s, the world opium production ranged around 2,000 tons annually. This date marks the entry of Afghanistan into the global production cycle where it now occupies the position of the prime producer.” (Kreutzmann 2007) The evolution of Afghanistan into the largest producer of opium can be connected to the Soviet invasion and occupation of the country that began in 1979. “The Soviet Invasion on 27 December 1979, annual opium production ranged around 200 tons, accounting for 10 percent of the world production. By the retreat of the Red Army in 1989, the amount had increased six-fold in one decade marking the beginning of a narco-economy.” (Kreutzmann, 2007) This research supports the opinion that as the economic situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate under Soviet rule, the civilian population had little to no choice but to cultivate and traffic opium to support everyday life, as the infrastructure in the region continued to deteriorate the level and amount of opium cultivation would continue to increase so as to offer support in areas where the state could not.
This research can also be used to support the opinion that opium cultivation and trafficking was being used to support an insurgency effort against the Soviet occupation. “General David Petraeus then commander of the U.S. Central Command and now commander of U.S. and ISAF (international Security Assistance Force) forces in Afghanistan spoke for many when he told the U.S. Senate Armed Services committee in March 2010 Another major component of our strategy is to disrupt narcotics trafficking which provide significant funding to the Taliban groups to operate.” (Mercille 2011) While conventional wisdom supports the opinion that opium cultivation and trafficking is being used to support Afghan insurgency, there is also research that is indicating that insurgent groups are merging with organized crime groups causing not only an increase in financing toward insurgent movements but also violence and crime that can be associated with organized criminal activity. “Michael Braun, then the DEA’s chief of operations said in 2005 as a result, the traditional boundaries between terrorists groups and other criminal groups have begun to blur. They flourish around the globe in places where good government does not.” (Peters 2009. p 7)
Taking into account the merging of insurgent groups with organized crime groups it becomes easier to see the impact that opium cultivation in Afghanistan will have an impact on U.S. national security and law enforcement, “in Afghanistan, it is easy to identify the existence of powerful drug mafias whose principle role is to act as intermediary between the international traffickers and the producers. Thanks to ever stronger ties with the local élite and drug lords, these mafias have continually reinforced their position through the years, so much so that many of those heavily involved in drug trafficking still hold public office today.” (Ceccarelli 2007) This will have an impact U.S. national security not only through increased amounts of heroin entering the U.S. from Central Asia, but these same drug trafficking routes can also be utilized to trafficking humans and weapons.
Research to date has taken two approaches, those being the impact that opium cultivation will have on the economy of Afghanistan as well as the potential impact that cultivation, trafficking and addiction will have on Central Asia. . As Ahmed Rashid (2010) has said, “Afghanistan’s economic black hole is getting larger and wider, sucking more and more of its own population and the people of the region into it.” (Rashid 2010. p. 127) Other research focuses on the impact that eradication attempts have had on opium cultivation in the region has had. None of this research has come to an agreement on if drug trafficking does in fact support the Taliban or any other Afghan insurgency. However, there is enough research to indicate there is at least a small connection between opium cultivation and trafficking and funding of insurgent groups. In addition to this, there is more than ample evidence to support the idea that insurgent groups are starting to merge with organized crime groups to become larger transnational criminal conglomerations. This will not only have an impact on the Central Asian region but also to U.S. national security and law enforcement.
- Methodology and Research Strategy
Research into the nature and reasoning behind opium cultivation in Afghanistan is difficult simply due to the nature of major research programs. Both Qualitative and quantitative research may give biased results of the subject under study. Qualitative research is popular among the social science field because it is seeking to answer the question of why humans engage in a specific type of behavior. Therefore this type of research would be asking why Afghans have made the decision to cultivate and/or traffic narcotics and would be interested in the told such behavior would have on the population. Whereas quantitative research is more popular with the hard sciences and would seek to answer the statistical questions such as levels of increase versus decrease of opium cultivation in Afghanistan.
This research report will utilize a mixed methods approach. “Mixed methods research is a research design with philosophical assumptions As well as methods of inquiry. As a methodology, it involves philosophical Assumptions that guide the direction of the collection and Analysis of data and the mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches in many phases in the research process. As a method, it focuses on collecting, Analyzing, and mixing both quantitative and qualitative data in a Single study or series of studies. Its central premise is that the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches in combination provides a better Understanding of research problems than either approach alone.” (Creswell, and Clark 2007) For the purpose of this research report the mixed methods approach appeared to be superior to both the quantative and qualitative research methods due to the fact that the mixed methods approach to research would provide both statistical and social science research.
The primary methods used in the collection of data for this research report came from both public and private case studies, academic journal articles, popular news reporting and both academic and mass market books. It is important to conduct a thorough case study of all relevant research so as to complete as clear a picture as possible of the impact that opium cultivation has on Afghanistan and the greater Central Asian region. It is important to have an understanding that narcotics that have been produced in Afghanistan not only impact Afghanistan but will also have an impact on neighboring nations. Also, in regard to connections between insurgent groups and organized crime, organized criminal groups will function throughout the Central Asian region.
In addition it was valuable to study empherical studies that discuss the nature and impact of drug addiction and cultivation throughout not only Afghanistan but also throughout the region. The numbers of those impacted by drug abuse may contribute to the continuing number of farms that have chosen to continue to cultivate opium (to support addiction among the Afghan population). It is also useful to have a clear picture of crime statistics from the United States. It has been theorized that opium being trafficked from Afghanistan is entering the American market though organized crime/gang crime/street crime. An analysis of the levels of gang and drug related crime, in specific any information that can be located that deals specifically with heroin trafficking would support this suggestion.
Finally, “Transnational organized crime and international terrorism increasingly share both organizational and operational characteristics, and at times even partner with one another.” (Sanderson 2004) Again it would be of assistance to confirm a merging of insurgent groups and organized crime groups/transnational gangs that may be branching out from narcotics trafficking to human trafficking. These statistics would give information about the potential impact Afghanistan opium cultivation was having on American national security.
- Findings and Analysis
Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium that is not in dispute, what is under dispute as whether opium cultivation and trafficking is being used to support insurgency in Afghanistan. It would seem that at least some of the funding from opium cultivation is being used to support the Afghan insurgency. This is most likely due to the fact that without a stable functioning government and after years of warfare there is no economy in Afghanistan. The nation and its residents have no other options other than drug cultivation and trafficking.
Not only has Afghanistan become the world producer of opium, this fact has also lead to the destabilization of the entire Central Asian region. Opium being produced in Afghanistan is being trafficked to other nations in the region such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. However, increasingly Afghan opium is starting to enter the European market through Russia. Increased trafficking will lead to the rise in organized crime groups that function to facilitate the trafficking of drugs from Afghan to markets in Central Asia as well as Europe. In addition to this research indicated that insurgent groups and organized crime groups are beginning to merge and are blurring the lines between insurgency and organized crime. This will lead to an increased level of crime that may occur among insurgent/organized crime organizations.
This merging of Afghan insurgents and organized crime groups will begin to pose a threat to U.S. national security for several reasons. One of these reasons is that organized crime groups from the Central Asian region can utilize transnational street gangs to felicitate the trafficking of narcotics throughout the United States. In addition to this there will be an increase in street gang violence in an attempt to control the drug trade in the United Sates. Add to this the fact that narcotics trafficking routes can also be used to move people (insurgents in addition to individuals being trafficked) and weapons (potentially WMDs that may be used in terrorist activity in the United States). It should also be taken into account the social impact that increase opium production and trafficking will have on Afghanistan, Central Asia, Europe and the United States. Increased levels of narcotics will lead to increased levels of addiction. This increase in addiction will also have an impact on violence in the United States. If drug addiction were on the rise, addicts will continually engage in violence activity to support a habit.
There are many and varied reasons that opium cultivation in Afghanistan will have an impact on U.S. national security and law enforcement. The law enforcement issues will focus on the nature of the trafficking that is the groups that have become involved in the activity. National security concerns will come into play when one considers how narcotics are trafficked. The trafficking routes that can be used to more narcotics can also be used to move individuals and weapons that can be used in terrorist activity. Finally, as opium production in Afghanistan is increasing, money is finding its way to the Taliban and other Afghan insurgents. This funding will allow insurgency in Afghanistan to continue (without money insurgent groups cannot continue to fight). This increase in violence will lead Afghanistan to remain unstable. This instability will lead to even greater levels of narcotics production and trafficking. In addition to this, without a stable Afghan government there is the problem of corruption, there is more than ample evidence that indicates that the Karazi government is also involved in narcotics trafficking or at the very least turns a blind eye to the activity. This will lead the government to be open to exploitation by organized crime groups seeking to over throw the government.
It also should not be understated that this potential can lead to serious national security threats. While Afghanistan is not a nuclear nation, Pakistan and India are nuclear nations. A destabilization in Afghanistan can lead to the destabilization of both Pakistan and India. If there were to occur that would lead to instability of nations that possess nuclear weapons. There is the potential that these weapons may find their way into the hands of insurgent groups within Afghanistan.
Evidence clearly points to the fact that Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium in the world. Evidence is not as clear on weather funds obtained through opium production is or is not being used to fund an insurgency. Also unclear is the connections between insurgent groups in Afghanistan and organized criminal organizations.
Afghanistan sits at an interesting point in its history, while it is a failed state or a state with no infrastructure and therefore unable to even meet the most basic needs of society (medical care, clean drinking water, electricity, transportation) there is also difficulties within the government. Hamid Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan, however the Taliban “Before its ouster by U.S.-led forces in 2001, the Taliban controlled some 90 percent of Afghanistan's territory, although it was never officially recognized by the United Nations. After its toppling, the Taliban has proved resilient. In June 2011, the International Crisis Group reported that the Taliban had expanded (PDF) far beyond its stronghold in the south and southeast to central-eastern provinces. "Insurgent leaders have achieved momentum in the central-eastern provinces by employing a strategy that combines the installation of shadow governments, intimidation, and the co-opting of government officials," it noted.” (Bajoria n.d.) Clearly the Taliban still control vast sections of Afghanistan and Ahmed Wali Karzai the brother of President Hamid Karzai has been implicated in the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan.
Taking into consideration that the Taliban is beginning to reassert its power and the fact that the Karzai government is corrupt at best (or is functioning as a shadow government for the Taliban) is demonstrating that the security situation will deteriorate before any lasting changes can be made. Because of the fact that the Afghan government is corrupt and/or a puppet government for an insurgent groups and the fact that the majority of opium production is taking place in provinces where the security situation is the worst seems to indicate that insurgent movements are taking advantage of the poor security situation to exploit the regions farmers. It also becomes obvious that the Taliban is taking advantage of the poor security situation in Afghanistan so as to continue to produce narcotics.
This will have an impact on U.S. national security for a number of reasons. “UNODC estimates that the Afghan Taliban earned around US$155 million in 2009, Afghan drug traffickers US$2.2 billion, and Afghan farmers US$440 million.” (The Global Afghan Opium Trade 2011) These large profits in and of themselves are reason enough to prevent the Karzai government and the Taliban from attempting to finance state reconstruction. After all, with an almost total lack of infrastructure and security, what alternatives are left to rebuilt Afghanistan after the U.S. led GWOT, the civil war that occurred after the pull out of Soviet forces in 1989 and the Soviet/Afghan war. Afghanistan has become a narco-state simply due to the fact that the region has no other options but to cultivate opium as a source of income.
This will lead to a threat to U.S. national security for several reasons. Primarily, the Karzai government has proven ineffectual against the narcotics threat in Afghanistan in addition to this it is becoming likely that the Afghan government has been corrupted by the Taliban and is now functioning as a puppet government. Without having a stable government in Afghanistan the U.S. government will have no legitimate state government with witch to negotiate. Also, the large profits being obtained by the Taliban from opium trafficking can be used to fund insurgent operations both within Afghanistan, the Central Asian region, Europe and the United States. The impact of Taliban involvement in opium trafficking can make it easier to export insurgent activity form Central Asia by using the same trafficking routes that are being used by narcotics traffickers. Put differently, the Taliban will be able to use smuggling routes into the United States to move people that will engage in terrorist activity. In addition to this, the large profits that the Taliban have been able to obtain through narcotics cultivation and trafficking can be used to find insurgency, for training of insurgents and buying of weapons.
There is increasing evidence to support the opinion that Afghan insurgent groups are merging with organized crime groups. This has the potential to increase violence on two fronts. As is the case in Mexico where cartels are murdering those that either go against the wishes of the cartel and/or are threat to the operation of the cartel this same situation will continue to take place in Afghanistan where the cartel leaders/Taliban will do whatever necessary to continue the cultivation of narcotics. Also as in the case in Mexico the organized crime groups will gain influence in government to protect opium cultivation and therefore protect illicit operations. Finally all of this will spill over to the United States and to American interests. Criminal elements work with other criminal elements. Not only can Afghan insurgents use smuggling routes to smuggle people and weapons into this country it is also extremely likely that transnational street gangs in the United States will begin doing business with Afghan organized crime groups to move Afghan opium/heroine into the U.S. this will lead to an increased national security and law enforcement issue.
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