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NEW YORK – Opium production in Afghanistan is at a record high amid 12 years of U.S. military occupation, according to a new United Nations report.

While the use of opiates among the Afghanistan population has also reached epidemic proportions, allegations that Afghanistan government officials, possibly with the active cooperation of the CIA, are involved in the drug trafficking business remain unsubstantiated, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, reported in November.

The U.N. measured Afghanistan’s opium production this year at 5,500 tons, representing an increase of 49 percent over 2012.

The UNODC report on world drug production issued in May said Afghanistan is currently the lead producer and cultivator of opium globally. The nation was responsible for 74 percent of the global illicit opium production in 2012. About 131,000 hectares in Afghanistan was devoted to opium cultivation, more than all the other nations combined.

Prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had reduced opium production in the country to a record low of 7,606 hectares.

According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011 and was reduced to a “pre-surge” level of about 66,000 in September 2012. The number is expected to fall to 34,000 by February 2014. The size of the “residual force” that will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 is dependent on the outcome of current negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan governments.

As of October, the last month for which accurate statistics are available, NATO reported there were still 60,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan, 83 percent more than the 32,800 in Afghanistan when Obama took office.

A question rarely surfaced in the establishment media is whether the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the surge in the nation’s opium production are linked to active CIA involvement in the drug trade.

In 1991, Alfred W. McCoy published a book titled “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade” that investigated CIA involvement in the narcotics trade worldwide. It included U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan before and after the fall of the Taliban.

In 1996, journalist Gary Webb wrote a series of articles published in the San Jose Mercury News that resulted in his 1998 book “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.” In it, he linked the explosion of a crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles in 1996 to CIA drug-running activities that generated covert funds for the Contras in Nicaragua in the Reagan administration, known as Iran-Contra.

On March 16, 1998, following an extensive congressional investigation, CIA Inspector General Frederick P. Hitz testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that rogue CIA agents and Contra agents were involved in drug trafficking activities.

In 2008, under the administration of President George W. Bush, the CIA and the DEA investigated charges Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was involved in the drug trade. Both agencies concluded the alleged drug trafficking was politically motivated.

Still, the CIA-backed Mujahedeen in the 1980s in part turned to drug trafficking to support its insurgency guerrilla war against the Soviet Union. The Northern Alliance persisted in the opium trade to fund its opposition to Taliban rule, defying the Taliban’s aggressive efforts to eradicate opium production in Afghanistan.

Researchers such as Michael Chossudovsky, professor of economics (emeritus) at the University of Ottawa and founder of the Center for Research on Globalization, continue to follow the leads established by McCoy and Webb. Chossudovsky argued that one of the “hidden objectives” of the U.S. war in Afghanistan was to restore the CIA sponsored drug trade to its historical levels and exert direct control over the drug trades internationally.

“There are powerful business and financial interests behind narcotics. From this standpoint, geopolitical and military control over the drug routes is as strategic as oil and oil pipelines. However, what distinguishes narcotics from legal commodity trade is that narcotics constitutes a major source of wealth formation not only for organized crime but also for the U.S. intelligence apparatus, which increasingly constitutes a powerful actor in the spheres of finance and banking,” Chossudovsky wrote in 2005.

“In turn, the CIA, which protects the drug trade, has developed complex business and undercover links to major criminal syndicates involved in the drug trade. In other words, intelligence agencies and powerful business syndicates allied with organized crime, are competing for the strategic control over the heroin routes. The multi-billion dollar revenues of narcotics are deposited in the Western banking system. Most of the large international banks together with their affiliates in the offshore banking havens launder large amounts of narco-dollars.”

Updating his research this year, Chossudovsky charged the UNODC, following its mandate to support the prevention of organized criminal activity, obfuscates the true size and criminal nature of the Afghanistan drug trade. The UNODC has insisted that a large part of the opium trade in Afghanistan is no longer channeled toward the illegal heroin market.

“Each kilogram of opium produces 100 grams of pure heroin. The U.S. retail prices for heroin (with a low level of purity) is, according to UNODC, of the order of $172 a gram. The price per gram of pure heroin is substantially higher,” Chossudovsky concluded in his analysis this year.

“The profits are largely reaped at the level of the international wholesale and retail markets of heroin as well as in the process of money laundering in Western banking institutions. The revenues derived from the global trade in heroin constitute a multi-billion dollar bonanza for financial institutions and organized crime.”

WND, in a series of articles beginning in 2012, reported a former HSBC bank executive in New York documented HSBC was a conduit of massive money laundering internationally.

Later that year, HSBC paid a record $1.92 billion fine to the U.S. government to avoid criminal charges on allegations HSBC laundered money for major drug cartels worldwide.

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