In Glasgow, officers from Police Scotland made three arrests and seized five kilograms of heroin Tuesday, with a street value of £350,000.
In Apple Valley, Minn., police discovered a cache holding at least $100,000 in heroin Monday, the largest such bust in Dakota County. And in a joint Australian-Canadian naval operation off of Zanzibar Island near Tanzania, more than $100 million in heroin was seized while being transported from Afghanistan.
These, and other incidents of increased global heroin use, reflect an unsettling reality. Since NATO entered Afghanistan in 2001, heroin production has increased 40 times, according to the head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service. One million people have died from Afghan heroin since 2001.
“Afghan heroin has killed more than 1 million people worldwide since the ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ began and over a trillion dollars has been invested into transnational organized crime from drug sales,” said Viktor Ivanov, at the conference on the drug situation in Afghanistan. “Any impartial observer must admit the sad fact that the international community has failed to curb heroin production in Afghanistan since the start of NATO’s operation.”
According to Ivanov’s presentation at the United Nation’s 56th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on March 11, opium growth has increased 18 percent from 131,000 hectares to 154,000.
Heroin is an addictive drug that is a derivative of morphine, a highly dangerous painkiller that can occurs naturally from the Asian poppy. Normally taking the form of a black, sticky liquid, heroin can be dried to a brown or white powder and can be injected, snorted or smoked. The drug creates an euphoric state due to the drug blocking neuroreceptors from transmitting and receiving chemical messages; this causes the notable drowsy stages the drug use provokes and cloudy thinking. Heroin use suppresses the respiratory system, which makes overdoses typically fatal.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2009, 605,000 Americans ages 12 or older had abused heroin at least once a year — 0.8 percent of all eighth graders, 0.8 percent of all 10th graders and 0.9 percent of all 12th graders have used heroin at least once a year.
Prior to NATO and the United States invading Afghanistan, opium production was banned by the Taliban, who saw it as anti-Islam and disruptive. Since the invasion, however, Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, most of it ending up in Western Europe or Russia. The West is forced to either allow the Afghani to continue growing opium, which is the core of their local economy and livelihood, or stop opium production, as the Taliban receives a percentage of the international proceeds. About $2.4 billion is earned from drug exports, or 15 percent of Afghanistan’s gross national product (GNP).
The U.S. and NATO have no intentions of cutting off this flow of money all at once. According to Ivanov, only 1/100th of the total opium yield in Afghanistan has been destroyed, compared with sweeping eradications of coca bushes each year in Colombia.
The West’s dirty hands
It is hard to say exactly how complacent the United States and England are in the Afghan heroin trade, but it is clear that both countries have financial stakes in Afghanistan’s cash crop. Since the invasion, as reported by the Guardian, opium prices were, in 2002, 10 times 2000 prices, and that by 2007, Afghanistan committed more land for drug cultivation than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru combined, with the U.S. doing little about it.
The United States became involved with Afghanistan’s opium trade during the Soviet invasion of 1979-1980. As the Afghan government destabilized and withdrew from the outer provinces, warlords settled in and used opium production to pay for weapons. As the United States was supporting the Mujahideen against the Soviets, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) turned a blind eye to the drugs.
In 1997, Alfred McCoy testified before a special seminar focused on linking the CIA to drug-trafficking: “Under CIA and Pakistani protection, Pakistan military and Afghan resistance opened heroin labs on the Afghan and Pakistani border. According to The Washington Post of May 1990, among the leading heroin manufacturers were Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan leader who received about half of the covert arms that the U.S. shipped to Pakistan … Once the heroin left these labs in Pakistan’s northwest frontier, the Sicilian Mafia imported the drugs into the U.S., where they soon captured sixty percent of the U.S. heroin market. That is to say, sixty percent of the U.S. heroin supply came indirectly from a CIA operation.”
“Former CIA operatives have admitted that this operation led to an expansion of the Pakistan-Afghanistan heroin trade. In 1995 the former CIA Director of this Afghan operation, Mr. Charles Cogan, admitted sacrificing the drug war to fight the Cold War. ‘Our main mission was to do as much damage to the Soviets. We didn’t really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade,’ he told Australian television. ‘I don’t think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout. There was fallout in terms of drugs, yes, but the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.’”
Besides being a major cash crop, heroin offered routes for the West to support various organizations privately, offered capital and profits to banks that laundered and handled the cash flows and offered cooperation and coverage toward various intelligence community operations. Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray wrote in a 2007 article for the Daily Mail that “our economic achievement in Afghanistan goes well beyond the simple production of raw opium. In fact Afghanistan no longer exports much raw opium at all. It has succeeded in what our international aid efforts urge every developing country to do. Afghanistan has gone into manufacturing and ‘value-added’ operations.”
He elaborated that Afghanistan “now exports not opium, but heroin. Opium is converted into heroin on an industrial scale, not in kitchens but in factories. Millions of gallons of the chemicals needed for this process are shipped into Afghanistan by tanker. The tankers and bulk opium lorries on the way to the factories share the roads, improved by American aid, with NATO troops.”