The drug problem in Afghanistan is growing, and it threatens to undermine the U.S. war effort of building a stable country there, top Pentagon officials say in some of the sharpest warnings they have issued on the topic, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The lucrative opium trade has been surging in recent years, even as less of the crop is being seized, and with the U.S. military presence winding down, prospects for keeping the illicit business in check are dwindling.
How to take on Afghanistan's opium poppy trade has long been a tricky proposition for the U.S. military. Destroy the crops – a sizable source of income for poor farmers – and risk the ire of Afghan locals, who may turn to violence to protect their livelihood. The poppy trade, which supplies the world's heroin dealers, is also an important source of income for the Taliban. An estimated one quarter of their $400 million annual budget comes from the crops, says the U.S. Department of Defense. The opium trade in Afghanistan last year reached record levels, with production up 36 percent over 2012, says the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.