POLITICS
10/21/2014 12:07 pm ET Updated Oct 23, 2014

Afghan Poppy Crop Reaches All-Time High Despite $7.6 Billion In U.S. Spending

Afghanistan just produced a record poppy crop despite massive $7.6 billion in U.S. counternarcotics spending since the war there began, a new report from an independent watchdog found.

The value of opium poppy produced in Afghanistan spiked from $2 billion to $3 billion from 2012 to 2013, according to a brief released Tuesday from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

"With deteriorating security in many parts of rural Afghanistan and low levels of eradication of poppy fields, further increases in cultivation are likely in 2014," predicted John Sopko, the inspector general.

Sopko's analysis combined drug cultivation figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime with U.S. spending figures to expose the glaring mismatch between U.S. outlays and results on the ground in the war-torn country.

Afghan warlords and insurgents are all still heavily reliant on the poppy for funding, despite U.S. efforts to eradicate the crop and provide farmers with alternatives.

As U.S. forces continue their withdrawal from the country, meanwhile, their ability to pursue counternarcotics actions will decrease considerably. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul acknowledged that efforts to cut the poppy yield are still "in process."

Since the 2001 U.S. invasion of the country, that process has encountered serious obstacles, including ambivalence from the Afghan government itself. The corruption may have gone all the way to the top in the form of Ahmed Wali Karzai, a CIA-funded power broker and alleged drug lord who also happened to be former President Hamid Karzai's half-brother.

The Defense Department, which has taken a lead in the counternarcotics push, blamed the Afghan government for the poppy problem.

"The failure to reduce poppy cultivation and increase eradication is due to the lack of Afghan government support for the effort," Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Lumpkin wrote in a letter. "Poverty, corruption, the terrorism nexus to the narcotics trade, and access to alternative livelihood opportunities that provide an equal or greater profit than poppy cultivation are all contributors to the Afghan drug problem."

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