The Land of a Million Addicts

During the US occupation, Afghanistan’s heroin production has soared, exacting a heavy toll on a traumatized population. With exclusive video and images, The Fix reports on the crisis.

addictsIt’s 5 am in Shar-e Naw Park in central Kabul. The sun hasn’t yet begun to rise, but those who call the park home are stirring. In the dim light their presence would go unnoticed if it weren’t for the occasional flickering of flames beneath draped coats and plastic tarps. Within an hour, the park will be filled with men jogging and young boys playing cricket and soccer. For now it belongs to the heroin addicts.

The US involvement in Afghanistan over the past four decades could stand as a lesson in unintended consequences. In the ‘80s, CIA funding for Afghans fighting Soviet occupation gave rise to the radical mujahideen factions that would ultimately spawn the Taliban. Now, after a decade of US occupation and nation building, Afghanistan is on the threshold of becoming a narco-state, and is awash in heroin and homegrown addicts.

Following the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration quickly turned its attention to Iraq. Deprioritizing the Afghan war led to strategic choices that aided the cultivation of illicit crops: With a focus on developing a centralized government and securing Kabul, the US turned policing and control of large parts of the country over to warlords, many of whom had ties to poppy farming and the trafficking of poppy’s byproduct, heroin. Some poppy-rich areas of the country would see no foreign military presence until 2005—an error that facilitated the elevation of Afghanistan to the world’s number one poppy cultivator.

That increase in cultivation has been matched by a growing share of the world’s heroin market: Over the past decade Afghanistan has gone from supplying roughly 50% of Europe’s heroin to over 90% of the world’s. Worldwide, there have been 1 million deaths related to Afghan heroin since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001, estimates the head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov. And at the source, a particularly intense version of that tragedy is being played out. Read More…

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