The top watchdog for U.S. spending in Afghanistan testified Wednesday that the counternarcotics situation there is "dire" and warned of the emergence of a "narco-criminal state" after the drawdown of international forces, painting a picture of failure for a 12-year, $7 billion effort to control drugs in the country.
In prepared testimony delivered before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Special Inspector General John Sopko said the U.S. has no coherent anti-drug strategy for the country and that opium cultivation is at an all-time high.
"(T)he situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond. Afghan farmers are growing more opium poppies today than at any time in their modern history," Sopko said. "In sum, the expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs is one of the most significant factors putting the entire U.S. and international donor investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk."
The United States has spent at least $7 billion on the war against drugs in Afghanistan since 2002, according to Sopko. "Despite this mammoth investment, more land in Afghanistan is under poppy cultivation today than it was when the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2002," he said.
Sopko's remarks come on the heels of a November U.N. report that found opium production in the country at a record high.
The value of opium and its derivatives was nearly $3 billion in 2013, or 15 percent of the country's GDP, Sopko noted. Income from the drug trade fuels criminal organizations and the Taliban, he said.
Sopko will recommend a "robust law enforcement presence" to fight the drug trade. But as the U.S. draws down its presence, leaving an inept and corrupt Afghan government in its stead, that suggestion is unlikely to be realized.
"The people I spoke with in Afghanistan in my last few trips talked about two possible outcomes following the 2014 transition in Afghanistan: a successful modern state, or an insurgent state," Sopko said. "However, there is a third possibility: a narco-criminal state. Absent effective counternarcotics programs and Afghan political will to seriously tackle this grave problem, that third outcome may become a reality."