By the end of 2011, 81 US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents will be deployed in Afghanistan, up from 13 just three years ago, according to the agency’s chief of operations Tom Harrigan. “Afghanistan is the most prolific producer of opium,” said Harrigan. “We are working very closely with our Afghan counterparts. We’re there to extend the rule of law.” (Federal News Radio, July 23)
Counter-terrorism officials claim that the Taliban are funding their insurgency through a taxation system that generates money from the production, processing and transport of opium from Afghanistan. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime says that between 2003 and 2008, the Taliban made an estimated $18 billion from drug production and trafficking.
Last week’s landmark international conference in Kabul, attended by 40 foreign ministers and international delegates from more than 70 countries, ended with the official endorsement of President Hamid Karzai’s reconciliation program with armed insurgent groups, including the Taliban. Karzai’s Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program aims to reintegrate up to 36,000 Taliban fighters into Afghan society. Fighters are to be offered jobs, land and protection in a bid to persuade them to change sides. But critics fear that the opium economy could make it more lucrative for fighters to remain in insurgency. (The Austrialian, July 23)