After 12 years of occupation by U.S. military forces, Afghanistan set a record for growing opium poppies in 2013, according to newly released data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached a sobering record high in 2013,” said the UNODC. “According to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey, cultivation amounted to some 209,000 hectares, outstripping the earlier record in 2007 of 193,000 hectares, and representing a 36 per cent increase over 2012.”
In fact, according to the latest worldwide data on opium-poppy cultivation, Afghanistan dedicates more land to the cultivation of opium poppies than all of the rest of the world combined.
According to the UNODC’s “World Drug Report,” published in May--which included data for the world’s primary opium producing regions through 2011--the 131,000 hectares that was devoted to opium cultivation in Afghanistan that year was more than the combined 76,500 hectares used to cultivate opium poppies in other places. This included the 43,600 hectares in Myanmar, the 12,000 hectares in Mexico, the 4,100 hectares in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the 362 hectares in Pakistan, the 338 hectares in Columbia, and the combined 16,100 hectares under in various other countries.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. sent military forces into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime there and deny al Qaeda the use of that country as a sanctuary. That year, according to UNODC, Afghanistan had a recorded low of 7,606 hectares under cultivation with opium poppies (in 2000, by contrast, Afghanistan had had 82,171 hectares under cultivation).
In the years following 2001, the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan generally increased, especially after President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and launched a military surge there.
As of Sept. 2002, a year after the terrorist attacks, there were 10,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to the Congressional Research Service. In January 2009, the month Barack Obama was first inaugurated, there were 32,800 U.S. troops there. By December 2009, there were 69,000. And, by September 2010, there were 98,000.
As of this October, the latest month reported by NATO, there were 60,000 U.S. troops still on the ground in Afghanistan—27,200 more (or 83 percent more) than 32,800 who were there when Obama took office.
Despite the significant long-term U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, the top opium cultivating regions in that country are provinces in the nation’s south and west that lie along the borders of Iran and Pakistan. These include Helmand province, which borders on Pakistan; Kandahar province, which borders on Pakistan; Farah province, which borders on Iran; Nimroz province which borders on Iran and Pakistan; and Nangarhar province, which borders on Pakistan.
According to the UNODC report, “the vast majority of opium cultivation remained confined to the country’s Southern and Western provinces, which are dominated by insurgency and organized criminal networks.”