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Friday, July 23, 2010

Afghanistan: Narcotics and U.S. Policy

Christopher M. Blanchard
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Opium poppy cultivation and drug trafficking have eroded Afghanistan's fragile political and economic order over the last 30 years. In spite of ongoing counter-narcotics efforts by the Afghan government, the United States, and their partners, Afghanistan remains the source of over 90% of the world's illicit opium. Since 2001, efforts to provide viable economic alternatives to poppy cultivation and to disrupt drug trafficking and related corruption have succeeded in some areas. However, insecurity, particularly in the southern province of Helmand, and widespread corruption fueled a surge in cultivation in 2006 and 2007, pushing opium output to all-time highs.

In 2008 and 2009, poppy cultivation decreased in north-central and eastern Afghanistan, while drug activity became more concentrated in the south and west. National poppy cultivation and opium production totals dropped in 2009 for the second straight season, as pressure from provincial officials, higher wheat prices, drought, and lower opium prices altered the cultivation decisions of some Afghan poppy farmers. Preliminary estimates for the 2010 season suggest that poor weather conditions, disease, and military operations in key poppy growing areas will limit production to 2009 levels, in spite of backsliding in some areas. Some experts continue to question the sustainability of rapid changes in cultivation patterns and recommend reinforcing recent reductions to replace poppy cultivation in local economies over time.

Across Afghanistan, insurgents, criminal organizations, and corrupt officials exploit narcotics as a reliable source of revenue and patronage, which has perpetuated the threat these groups pose to the country's fragile internal security and the legitimacy of its elected government. The trafficking of Afghan drugs appears to provide financial and logistical support to a range of extremist groups that continue to operate in and around Afghanistan. Although coalition forces may be less frequently relying on figures involved with narcotics for intelligence and security support, many observers have warned that drug-related corruption among appointed and elected Afghan officials creates political obstacles to progress.

As of April 2010, Congress had appropriated approximately $4.2 billion in regular and supplemental foreign assistance and defense funding for counter-narcotics programs in Afghanistan from FY2001 through FY2010. The Obama Administration is pursuing a two-pronged interdiction and development policy in support of the government of Afghanistan's implementation of its National Drug Control Strategy. At present, U.S. military and law enforcement personnel are assisting Afghan forces and judicial authorities in targeting drug trafficking organizations while State Department, USAID, and USDA personnel are implementing expanded agricultural development assistance programs. The Administration ended U.S. support for eradication after deciding previous efforts were inefficient and potentially counterproductive. Afghan authorities continue to implement targeted eradication efforts.

This report provides current statistical information, profiles the narcotics trade's participants, explores linkages between narcotics, insecurity, and corruption, and reviews U.S. and international policy responses since late 2001. The report also considers ongoing policy debates regarding the counternarcotics role of coalition military forces, poppy eradication, alternative livelihoods, and funding issues for Congress. See also CRS Report RL30588, Afghanistan: Post- Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman, CRS Report R40699, Afghanistan: U.S. Foreign Assistance, by Curt Tarnoff, and CRS Report R40156, War in Afghanistan: Strategy, Military Operations, and Issues for Congress, by Steve Bowman and Catherine Dale.

Date of Report: June 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL32686
Price: $29.95

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