Saturday, September 09, 2006


Taliban Going 'Where the Money Is'

When in power, the Taliban's ultra-
orthodox inter
pretation of Islam led it to crack down mercilessly on heroin production. The U.N. noted Afghanistan's poppy output in 2001, for instance, was negligible.

But now, there is increasing "anecdotal evidence" that the Taliban are "going where the money is" and using "narco funds," said Thomas Schweich, a State Department expert on international narcotics.

For example, the Afghan province with the highest poppy output — the Helmand area — is a Taliban stronghold. Although the U.S believes that only 8 to 10 percent of Afghan farmers are involved in poppy cultivation, the Helmand province is the source of up to half of the world's heroin.

And who gained the most? The Taliban.

The most dramatic increases in cultivation took place in five southern provinces where the anti-U.S. insurgency has spiked.

In Helmand province, where Taliban ties to the drug trade are most clear, poppy output grew 162 percent. And Helmand was the province that last year produced a whopping 40 percent of Afghanistan's $2.8 billion poppy crop.

I travelled to Helmand in April, when the poppy was flowering, and it was one of the most incredible sites I have seen. Poppy flowers are stunningly beautiful, and they were everywhere. I drove for hours; nary a moment passed that I was not driving through a poppy field.

Last Photo: Poppy growing areas.

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