How Corruption Fuels Afghan Opium Trade



At harvest time in the poppy fields of Afghanistan, McClatchy Newspapers report, dust-covered Taliban fighters pull up on their motorbikes to collect a 10 percent tax on the crop. Afghan police arrive in Ford Ranger pickups – bought with U.S. aid money – and demand their cut of the cash in exchange for promises to skip the farms during annual eradication. A drug trafficker will roll up in his Toyota Land Cruiser with black-tinted windows and send a footman to pay the farmers in cash. The farmers never see the boss, but they suspect that he’s a local power broker who has ties to the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, worth $3.4 billion to Afghan exporters last year. For a cut, Afghan officials open their highways to opium and heroin trafficking, allow public land to be used for growing opium poppies and protect drug dealers. The drug trade funnels hundreds of millions of dollars each year to drug barons and the resurgent Taliban, the militant Islamist group that’s killed an estimated 450 American troops in Afghanistan since 2001 and seeks to overthrow the fledgling democracy here. Afghan officials’ involvement in the drug trade suggests that U.S. tax dollars support corrupt officials who protect the Taliban’s efforts to raise money from the drug trade, money the militants use to buy weapons that kill U.S. soldiers.

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