Afghanistan's Opium Industry Now Employs More People Than Its Military

Afghanistan Muddy BootsDVIDS/Cpl. Alejandro PenaA US Marine reties his boots after changing out of his wet utility uniform following an overnight rainstorm in Shurakay, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 15, 2013.

Afghanistan’s opium economy provides more employment — “up to 411,000 full-time-equivalent jobs” — than even the country’s armed forces, according to a quarterly report released today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The country’s poppy cultivation is at an all-time high, covering more than 200,000 hectares, another SIGAR report found earlier this month.

Opium and its derivatives are the country’s largest export, worth $US3 billion in 2013, an increase from $US2 billion in the year before.

In fact, Afghanistan’s opium production has been on a constant uptick since 2010, according to a chart included in the SIGAR report:

“Counternarcotics Appears To Have Fallen Off The Agenda”

Despite the rampant growth of an illicit drug economy that stokes corruption and even finances the Taliban, the concern over opium has diminished. The US and its partners seem to have given up on opium eradication as a goal in the country. As the SIGAR report notes, it isn’t even mentioned in “the declarations and communiqués from the conferences on Afghanistan reconstruction that have become a mainstay of the international effort.”

Opium cultivation is paid only “oblique reference” in the 2012 document laying out the country’s reconstruction. Indeed, nowhere in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework do the words “poppy” or “opium” appear, even as the industry plays an ever-bigger role in the life of Afghans.

Meanwhile, appropriations for the Department of Defence’s Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities Fund (or DOD CN) have plummeted since a steady climb in the aughts and a peak in 2012. Since 2002, the US has spent nearly $US7.8 billion trying to tackle Afghanistan’s opium problem.

This chart shows how that effort recieved less and less US budgetary attention, at the same time opium production in the country increased:

Read the entire report here.

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