A new article from Consortium News sheds light on the connection between the Afghanistan opium trade and the Taliban’s cyclical surges of violence. A record poppy harvest is likely to mean a well-funded Taliban in 2018.
Under the current presidency the U.S. military has escalated their presence in Afghanistan and now with a record setting Afghanistan opium crop tensions look likely to increase in 2018. Adding to the mix, is President Trump who has shown a preference for increased military action over negotiations. “So, there’s no talking to the Taliban. We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish,” Trump said.
This escalation of the Afghanistan conflict under Trump, combined with steady Taliban gains and a plentiful poppy harvest suggest there could be bitter fighting during the coming months between American troops and the Afghan Taliban.
UN releases 2017 annual Afghanistan Opium Survey.
Last November, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime released its annual Afghanistan Opium Survey. The survey found that the country’s 2017 opium crop stood at an estimated 9,000 tons and was up 87 percent from the previous year.
The increase of poppy/opium crop production means that the Taliban has more money to use to finance military operations, the wages of fighters and arms purchases. As the Consortium News article illustrated, not only does the Taliban harvest their own poppy they also essentially regulate the entire poppy trade in Afghanistan. They tax local farmers, set quotas, and run and protect the labs that refine the opium.
“The Taliban is a major player in setting farm quotas for poppy farmers, storing and transporting opium out of Afghanistan, running and protecting drug labs that refine opium into heroin and laundering drug proceeds,” said Gretchen Peters an expert on the Afghan opium trade.
Poppy, opium, heroin and morphine.
Poppy plants produce seed pods which contain opium, a sticky sap that is drained from the pods and dried. The alkaloids in opium is then used to produce an array of opioid narcotics including morphine and heroin.
According to the U.N.’s report on Afghanistan opium, the country has been the world’s top producer and exporter of raw opium and heroin. And according to Consortium News “the narcotics trade is now the Taliban’s single greatest source of revenue, “taxing” opium traffic to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually”.
“The Spring Offensive”
The annual spike in spring operations by the Taliban has been dubbed “The Spring Offensive”. Now with the record-setting poppy harvest, the coming Spring Offensive is anticipated to be even more violent than normal. As Consortium News reported, in last years Spring Offensive the Taliban gained ground all over the country. With millions more in hand thanks to the poppy harvest, the Taliban is likely eager to capitalize on their past gains.