The United Nations estimates that Afghan farmers produce an estimated 90 percent of the world’s opium poppies, the raw material for heroin, and production is steadily rising.
Much of it is in provinces controlled by the Taliban rebels. They tax farmers, based on their potential revenue from growing opium, and most farmers have no practical alternative to raising opium, even if they wanted one.
American sources, however, claim that more than 90 percent of U.S. heroin originates in Latin America. Most of the heroin made from Afghan opium goes to Europe.
U.S. efforts to eradicate opium production or encourage legal crops have been of little avail. Jonah Blank, an Afghanistan expert for the RAND Corporation, said it isn’t practical to conduct a counter-insurgency campaign and an anti-narcotics campaign at the same time (which is probably true), and the counter-insurgency campaign is more important.
Back in 2000, the Taliban announced a ban on opium poppy farming as contrary to Islam, and this actually took effect in 2001. This created great hardship and even starvation. Although Secretary of State Colin Powell announced $43 million emergency aid to help them out, the Taliban leaders were reportedly disappointed about the lack of a positive response from world leaders. All this changed after Sept. 11, 2001.
The Real Afghanistan Surge Is In Heroin Production And Tripled Opium Cultivation Since the US Military Arrived by Meryl Naas, M.D., for her blog (via naked capitalism). Excellent article with many useful links.
As Heroin Use Grows In U.S., Poppy Crops Thrive in Afghanistan by Elizabeth Chuck for NBC News.
Afghanistan Is Home to 400,000 Football Fields Worth of Opium by Lucy Westcott for Newsweek.
Taliban’s Ban On Poppy A Success, U.S. Aides Say by Barbara Crossette for the New York Times in 2001.