US watchdog: ‘We failed’ to stem Afghan opium production



Opium production has soared to records levels inside Afghanistan despite an $8.7 billion American counternarcotics effort in the country designed to stem the flow of poppy crops fueling a global heroin crisis, a top U.S. watchdog official says.

“There’s more opium being grown now than when we started, there’s more heroin being produced than when we started, there’s more heroin being exported, there are more profits from the heroin going to the Taliban and to the other terrorist groups than when we started,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said on Hill.TV’s “Rising.”

“If you apply all of the tests, we failed.”

Opium production topped out at 9,000 metric tons inside Afghanistan last year, up 87 percent from the year before, according to statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes.

The poppy reduction program is one of two initiatives in the U.S. effort to rebuild and stabilize Afghanistan’s agrarian economy during its 17-year war that are now drawing scrutiny in Washington.

The other involves a $34 million initiative to encourage soybean production inside the country. Lawmakers say it fell flat for the most avoidable of reasons.

“We tried to force feed soybean production down the mouths of Afghanis and low and behold they don’t like soy,” Rep. Jackie Speier (Calif.), a key Democrat on the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, told Hill.TV’s “Rising” program.

“Nothing has been done appropriately. So whatever we’re spending, it’s too much.”

The failures are also giving ammunition to critics of the Afghanistan War who are arguing for the United States’ withdrawal.

“The question comes down to it, in the end, you can try to cut out waste but maybe we have been there too long and maybe we have problems here at home that need funding,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

“Schools, roads, you name it––that are underfunded in our country––but we’re spending about $50 billion a year trying to build stuff in Afghanistan.”

Speier said U.S. rebuilding efforts need to be scaled back in Afghanistan because they aren’t succeeding.

“I don’t agree with leaving Afghanistan entirely. I think our presence should be reduced, I think the support we provide our Afghanistan government should be limited. I think our efforts in terms of reconstruction need to be shut down.”

– Alison Spann


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