The cultivation, production, trafficking, and consumption of illicit drugs flourish in Afghanistan. A symbiotic relationship exists between the insurgency and organized narcotics trafficking. Traffickers provide weapons, funding, and other material support to the insurgency in exchange for the protection of drug trade routes, cultivation fields, laboratories, and trafficking organizations. According to credible media reports, the Taliban generates revenue by taxing drugs trafficked through areas they control. Some insurgent commanders reportedly traffic drugs themselves to finance their operations. Nevertheless, drug trafficking is not limited to insurgent-controlled areas, and the narcotics trade undermines governance and rule of law throughout the country. 2015 saw a resurgence of the security challenges seen in earlier periods of the insurgency, and the intensity of active battles undermined progress toward the Afghan government’s drug control goals.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
The Government of Afghanistan is publicly committed to confronting the drug problem in Afghanistan, particularly focusing on what it identifies as the root causes of the drug economy, including internal instability, poverty, unemployment, and organized crime. The Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) is the lead governmental agency for developing counternarcotics policy and coordinating the activities of other governmental bodies involved on issues related to the drug trade. The MCN’s ability to enlist other ministries in support of drug control efforts is largely dependent on top-level Afghan government support, which has been inconsistent.
The National Unity Government (NUG), inaugurated in September 2014, pledged as part of its reform agenda “to intensify efforts to control narcotic production and sale.” Implementation of this commitment remains unfulfilled. In a positive development, on October 14, 2015, President Ashraf Ghani signed the National Drug Action Plan, committing the NUG to implementing a comprehensive and sustainable approach to countering drug cultivation, production, and trafficking. It is too early to evaluate the impact of this nascent plan.
The Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF) is a self-contained unit that consists of prosecutors, investigators, and primary and appellate court judges. Under Afghanistan’s 2005 Counternarcotics Law, amended in 2010, the CJTF prosecutes all drug cases that reach certain thresholds (possession of two kilograms of heroin, ten kilograms of opium, 50 kilograms of hashish, precursor chemicals, or other controlled substances) before the Counter Narcotics Tribunal. The Counter Narcotics Justice Center (CNJC) houses the Tribunal and CJTF, and is the central facility for the investigation, prosecution, and trial of major narcotics and narcotics-related corruption cases. During the first nine months of 2015, CNJC prosecutors processed 469 cases involving 631suspects, and more than 30.46 metric tons (MT) of opiates, 2.61 MT of solid chemical precursors, and 4,002 liters of liquid precursors. Afghan officials also reportedly destroyed 13 drug-processing laboratories and confiscated 507 different types of weapons and 658 vehicles. The CNJC was on track in late 2015 to match or exceed its 2014 success in prosecuting 775 suspects.
There is neither a bilateral extradition treaty nor a mutual legal assistance treaty in force between the United States and Afghanistan. The United States and Afghanistan, however, are parties to numerous multilateral conventions that provide for international cooperation in criminal matters.
2. Supply Reduction
The MCN-run, U.S.-funded Governor-Led Eradication program reimburses governors for expenses associated with poppy eradication, which is verified by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the MCN. According to UNODC and the MCN, 183,000 hectares (ha) of opium poppy were cultivated in Afghanistan in 2015, a 19 percent decline from 2014. UNODC and the MCN estimate that Afghan poppy crops in 2015 yielded 3,300 MT of opium, down 48 percent from 6,400 MT in 2014. Yields per hectare decreased due to environmental factors. Cultivation remains at historically high levels.
UNODC and the MCN verified that Afghanistan eradicated a total of 3,760 ha of opium poppy fields in 2015. In comparison, they reported the eradication of 2,692 ha in 2014, 7,349 ha in 2013, and 9,669 ha in 2012. The majority of 2015 eradication efforts occurred in two of the largest poppy-growing provinces, Helmand and Badakhshan. In contrast to 2014, Helmand increased its eradication by 120 percent (from 787 ha to 1,747 ha), while Badakhshan’s eradication fell by 12 percent (from 1,411 ha to 1,246 ha). The number of provinces with verified eradication efforts in 2015 fell from 17 to 12 provinces (out of 22 provinces with recently recorded poppy cultivation), and the number of provinces considered poppy-free decreased from 15 to 14. The remaining 10 provinces that conducted eradication in 2015 yielded negligible amounts of eradication compared to their recorded levels of poppy cultivation. Compared to the 183,000 ha cultivated in 2015, the 3,760 ha eradicated amounted to eradication of only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan’s poppy cultivation.
The MCN implements the U.S.-funded Good Performers Initiative (GPI) to reward provinces that reduce poppy cultivation within their boundaries. Provinces that are determined to be poppy-free by UNODC, or where poppy cultivation has declined by 10 percent, receive funding for development projects proposed by provincial development councils and governors’ offices. In 2013, 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces received $16.1 million in GPI awards, including two provinces that received special recognition awards of $500,000 each. The United States has put further GPI awards on hold, pending the remediation of vulnerabilities identified by a financial management assessment of the MCN, as required by the U.S. Congress.
Several specialized units within the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA), including the Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU) and the National Interdiction Unit (NIU) which partner with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), are critical to interdiction efforts. The CNPA was established in 2003 as a specialized element of the Afghan National Police and is responsible for drug-related investigations and seizure operations. The NIU is the CNPA’s tactical element and is capable of conducting independent, evidence-based interdiction operations and seizures in high-threat environments. The SIU carries out complex counternarcotics and anti-money laundering investigations using intelligence developed by the Afghan Judicial Wire Intercept Program (JWIP). In all, SIU processes an average of 45,000 pertinent calls quarterly through the JWIP, which generates evidence admissible in courts of law in Afghanistan and elsewhere. During the first nine months of 2015, the NIU and SIU conducted 267 operations. Along with line CNPA provincial units and other Afghan drug enforcement elements, the NIU and SIU seized approximately 2.34 MT of heroin and 16.19 MT of opium during the first nine months of 2015.
3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment
Afghanistan has one of the highest substance abuse rates in the world. The U.S.-funded 2012 National Urban Drug Use Survey and the 2014 National Rural Drug Use Survey conservatively estimated that 2.5 to 3.0 million Afghans use drugs— 11 percent of the population. The Afghan government has acknowledged the growing domestic drug abuse problem, primarily involving opioids. Through the drug demand reduction program, the United States funds 89 inpatient and outpatient drug treatment centers across the country, 13 of which are currently being transitioned to Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) Management. Another 15 centers are scheduled to transition in January 2016, with full transition to MoPH management on track for the end of 2019. The demand for services exceeds the capacity of the centers; most have waiting lists for new patients. The current annual treatment capacity of the drug treatment programs receiving U.S. funding is close to 30,000 persons. The United States is also funding the development of a rural drug treatment program to address the growing problem of drug use in rural areas; studies show that it is far higher than drug use in urban areas.
Through the drug demand reduction program, an anti-drug curriculum was implemented in Afghan schools, which has so far trained over 1,598 teachers and reached over 400,000 students. The United States also funds a Counter Narcotics Community Engagement program (CNCE) that strategically focuses on discouraging poppy cultivation and encouraging licit crop production in targeted communities though community engagement events, such as mobile theater, shuras and sporting events, as well as targeted television, radio, and billboard messaging. Surveys indicate these campaigns are having a slow but steady effect on attitudes toward opium cultivation and narcotics trafficking.
In 2015, the United States continued supporting the training and credentialing of drug treatment professionals. The United States also supported the development of specialized treatment protocols for children, who are especially vulnerable to high levels of second-hand exposure. A separate treatment protocol for rural Afghan populations was under development at the time of this report.
As a matter of government policy, the Government of Afghanistan does not encourage or facilitate illicit drug production or distribution, nor is it involved in laundering proceeds from the sale of illicit drugs. However, widespread and longstanding credible allegations and media reporting suggest that many central, provincial, and district level government officials directly engage in, and benefit from, the drug trade. Corrupt practices range from facilitating drug activities to benefiting from drug trade revenue streams to thwarting arrests and prosecutions. The June 2014 release of U.S.-designated drug kingpin Haji Lal Jan Ishaqzai by the Kandahar Provincial Court – at the request of the detention commander only 17 months after he was given a 15-year sentence for opium trafficking – undermined the credibility of the country’s law enforcement and anticorruption commitments. Nonetheless, the CJTF continues to investigate and prosecute those who facilitate drug trafficking, including public officials. In September 2015, General Abdul Samad Habib of the Afghanistan National Army was convicted of narcotics trafficking offenses involving approximately 19 kg of morphine. The CNJC primary court sentenced him to 18 years in prison, which included a four-year sentence enhancement for misusing his trusted public position. In May 2015, Abdul Nasir, Director of the Nangarhar Power Company, was convicted and sentenced by the CNJC primary court to 17 years in prison for possessing approximately 20 kg of heroin. During the first nine months of 2015, the CJTF primary court prosecuted 34 public officials.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
On October 14, President Ghani approved the new Afghan National Drug Action Plan (NDAP). The NDAP highlights the actions necessary to counter the cultivation, production, trafficking, and use of narcotics, the timeframe, goals, and metrics to evaluate progress, and the ways in which the international community can support the plan. By targeting all facets of the drug trade and by including both incentives, such as alternative development, and deterrents, such as eradication, interdiction, and prosecution, this plan could be effective in the long term if effectively implemented. The NDAP lays out three interrelated goals that the Afghan government will pursue in partnership with the international community: decrease the cultivation of opium poppy; decrease the production and trafficking of opiates; and reduce the demand for illicit drugs in Afghanistan by increasing the availability of treatment for users.
The U.S. government maintains a counternarcotics strategy for Afghanistan that supports the priorities of disrupting the drug trade; developing licit alternative livelihoods; strengthening law enforcement and eradication; reducing the demand for drugs; and building the capacity of the government’s counternarcotics institutions. The strategy is formulated to help restore Afghanistan’s agriculture economy, build the Afghan government’s institutional counternarcotics and justice capacity, and disrupt the nexus between drugs, insurgents, and organized criminal syndicates. Additionally, the United States promotes licit crop production in areas where poppy has been, or is currently being cultivated. These projects are designed to support farmers and agribusinesses in targeted value chains, including wheat, livestock, and high-value horticulture.
In 2012, the United States signed agreements with the Afghan government for a Kandahar Food Zone (KFZ) program, led by the MCN, that integrates elements of alternative development, law enforcement and eradication, public information and drug treatment. The program has been extended through August 2016 with a budget of $27,659,804 (USAID) to address the drivers of poppy cultivation in Kandahar Province through activities that improve community infrastructure, strengthen alternative livelihoods, and support small businesses.
During the first two years, KFZ rehabilitated twelve irrigation canals (totaling approximately 105 miles), which provide water to more than 19,000 ha of farmland in the two target districts of Zhari and Panjwayi. In addition, KFZ completed 33 alternative livelihood activities in seven districts with a total number of 777 beneficiaries, including 47 greenhouses. KFZ also conducted 22 training workshops and trained 358 government officials. The MCN has also established a coordination mechanism to integrate alternative livelihoods activities with U.S.-funded counternarcotics public information, drug demand reduction, and governor led eradication programs.
Opium poppy cultivation, production, and the trade and use of narcotics continue to undermine public health, good governance, and economic growth in Afghanistan, while fueling corruption, providing funds for insurgents, and eroding security. While the Afghan government is steadily developing the capacity to reduce the supply and domestic demand for narcotics, this must be accompanied by the willingness of Afghan officials to use that capacity. Demonstration of this will is a key component of a meaningful, sustainable strategy to reduce the cultivation, trafficking, and abuse of narcotics.