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DEA Afghanistan drug intelligence briefing – November 2002

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  • Afghanistan drug intelligence briefing
    Published by U.S. Department of Justice – Tuesday 19 November, 2002

    Copyright: Drug Enforcement Administration

    Drug Situation Report – September 2001


    The Islamic State of Afghanistan is a major source country for the cultivation, processing and trafficking of opiate and cannabis products. Afghanistan produced over 70 percent of the world’s supply of illicit opium in 2000. Morphine base, heroin and hashish produced in Afghanistan are trafficked worldwide. Narcotics are the largest source of income in Afghanistan due to the decimation of the country’s economic infrastructure caused by years of warfare. Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979. Following the withdrawal of the Soviets ten years later, civil strife ensued in Afghanistan. There is no recognized national government in Afghanistan and opposing factions continue to battle for control of the country. The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic group, now controls over 90 percent of Afghanistan, while a loose coalition of opposition forces (referred to as the Northern Alliance ) maintains control of portions of northern Afghanistan.


    Opium: According to the official U.S. Government estimate for 2001, Afghanistan produced an estimated 74 metric tons of opium from 1,685 hectares of land under opium poppy cultivation. This is a significant decrease from the 3,656 metric tons of opium produced from 64,510 hectares of land under opium poppy cultivation in 2000.

    The United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) also estimates opium production in Afghanistan. The UNDCP estimated a reduction in 2000 opium production from 1999, pointing to a 10 percent reduction in land under opium poppy cultivation and the impact of a protracted drought in the area as the causes for the smaller opium production. Estimates for 2001 have not been released.


    2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
    USG 74 3,656 2,861 2,340 2,184 2,099
    UNDCP N/A 3,276 4,581 2,102 2,804 2,248

    For a number of years, there was a significant difference between U.S. Government and UNDCP estimates, with UNDCP estimates considerably higher than U.S. Government estimates. These differences are related to the differing methodology used. The U.S. Government estimates rely on imagery-based sample survey assessments, while the UNDCP utilizes a ground-based census survey. The UNDCP estimates more hectares under opium poppy cultivation than does the U.S. Government and bases yield estimates on farmer reports. The U.S. Government completed an opium poppy yield study in 2000. The study led to an increase in the yield per hectare figure used to determine total opium production. U.S. Government estimates for 1996 through 1999 were then revised using the new yield figure. Consequently, U.S. Government and UNDCP production estimates are much closer.

    On July 28, 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Omar issued a decree banning future opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. The decree states that the Taliban will eradicate any poppy cultivation found in the 2001 growing season in areas under their control. Reportedly, this ban applies to any territory seized from the Northern Alliance. In February 2001, the UNDCP declared that the opium poppy cultivation ban was successful and that the 2001 crop was expected to be negligible. This marks the first real effort by the Taliban to reduce opium production. In 1999, the Taliban decreed that opium poppy cultivation would be reduced by one-third in 1999-2000. However, this did not occur. The Taliban did report that opium poppies were destroyed in Qandahar and Helmand Provinces. This eradication effort was apparently in response to an agreement with the UNDCP, which agreed to fund alternative development projects on the condition that cultivation be reduced in Qandahar. In fact, there was a 50 percent reduction in the three UNDCP target districts in Qandahar, but there was not a one-third reduction overall as promised by the Taliban.

    According to press reports dated August 31, 2001, Taliban leader Mullah Omar extended the opium poppy cultivation ban for another year, to the 2001-2002 growing season.

    Cannabis: Cannabis grows wild and is also cultivated in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a major producer of cannabis, much of which is processed into hashish. According to INTERPOL, Afghanistan and Pakistan together produce about 1000 MT of cannabis resin each year, with Afghanistan producing the bulk of the product.

    Heroin Processing: Laboratories in Afghanistan convert opium into morphine base, white heroin, or one of three grades of brown heroin, depending on the order received. Large processing labs are located in southern Afghanistan. Smaller laboratories are located in other areas of Afghanistan, including Nangarhar Province. In the past, many opium processing laboratories were located in Pakistan, particularly in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). These laboratories appear to have relocated to Afghanistan, both to be closer to the source of opium and to avoid law enforcement actions by the Government of Pakistan.

    Morphine base is usually produced for traffickers based in Turkey. The morphine base is then shipped to Turkey, where it is converted to heroin prior to shipment to European and North American markets. Laboratories in Afghanistan also produce heroin for the world market. Chemists in the region are capable of producing heroin hydrochloride with extremely high purity levels.

    Taliban officials claim to have destroyed a large number of heroin processing labs in Nangarhar Province in the spring of 1999. However, reports suggest that heroin processing continues in Nangarhar. Laboratories are located throughout Afghanistan, with a significant number of conversion laboratories located in Helmand Province. Taliban officials also reportedly destroyed two heroin conversion laboratories in Helmand Province in October 2000. It is unlikely that the reported destruction of two laboratories had any impact on opiate conversion in the region.


    Afghanistan is landlocked and drug traffickers must rely on land routes to move morphine base and heroin out of the country. Opiates are consumed regionally, as well as smuggled to consumers in the west. It is estimated that 80 percent of opiate products in Europe originate in Afghanistan.

    Morphine Base: The primary market for Afghan morphine base is traffickers based in Turkey. Morphine base is transported overland through Pakistan and Iran, or directly to Iran from Afghanistan, and then into Turkey. Shipments of Afghan-produced morphine base are also sent by sea from Pakistan’s Makran Coast. Routes north through the Central Asia Republics, then across the Caspian Sea and south into Turkey are also used.

    Heroin: Heroin is trafficked to worldwide destinations by many routes. Traffickers quickly adjust heroin smuggling routes based on political and weather-related events. Reports of heroin shipments north from Afghanistan through the Central Asian States to Russia have increased. Tajikistan is a frequent destination for both opium and heroin shipments, although Tajikistan serves mostly a transit point and storage location rather than a final destination. While some of the heroin is used in Russia, some also transits Russia to other consumer markets. Heroin transits India en route to international markets. Heroin also continues to be trafficked from Afghanistan through Pakistan. Seizures are frequently reported at Pakistan’s international airports. Heroin is also smuggled by sea on vessels leaving the port city of Karachi. Heroin produced in Afghanistan continues to be trafficked to the United States, although generally in small quantities.

    Hashish originating in Afghanistan is trafficked throughout the region, as well as to international markets. Although the bulk of the hashish intended for international heroin markets is routed through Pakistan and Central Asia and sent by sea, train or truck, hashish has also been smuggled in air freight in the past.

    Afghanistan produces no essential or precursor chemicals. Acetic anhydride (AA), which is the most commonly used acetylating agent in heroin processing, is smuggled primarily from Pakistan, India, the Central Asian Republics, China, and Europe. According to the World Customs Organization, China seized 5,670 metric tons of AA destined for Afghanistan in April 2000. The AA was reportedly found in 240 plastic boxes concealed in carpets.


    Money laundering is not an issue in Afghanistan. The unsophisticated banking system which previously existed has been damaged by the years of war. It is likely that the informal banking system used extensively in the region, usually referred to as the hawala or hundi system, is also used by drug traffickers. This system is an underground, traditional, informal network that has been used for centuries by businesses and families throughout Asia. This system provides a confidential, convenient, efficient service at a low cost in areas that are not served by traditional banking facilities.


    No drug abuse or treatment statistics are available. The UNDCP states that heroin, opium and hashish are the most commonly abused drugs, along with pharmaceutical drugs (for which no prescription is required). Heroin use is by smoking, not injection. Reportedly heroin addiction is a growing problem in the cities of Jalabad, Kabul, Qandahar and Heart, and the only hospital providing even limited treatment is in Kabul. The Taliban have initiated a drug awareness campaign using leaflets, radio broadcasts and the newspapers. The UNDCP has distributed anti-drug materials in Badakshan Province, where reportedly the rate of opiate addiction is high at perhaps 10-25 per cent of the population.


    The Taliban maintain effective control of nearly all of the opium poppy growing areas in the country, even though they are not internationally recognized as the official Government of Afghanistan nor do the control the entire country. Islamic law (Shari’a) has been imposed in territory controlled by the Taliban, and local Shari’a courts have been established throughout the country. In 1997, the Taliban re-activated the State High Commission for Drug Control, which was originally established in 1990 by the legitimate interim government. Prior to the UNDCP reports indicating that implementation of the 2000-2001 opium poppy cultivation ban has been effective and the release of the U.S. Government estimate indicating a dramatic reduction in opium production, the Taliban made only token gestures toward anti-drug law enforcement.


    Afghanistan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, but lacks a national government to implement the country’s obligations.

    Note: The United States Government has no presence in Afghanistan; the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is closed due to security concerns. The Drug Enforcement Administration covers Afghanistan from its Islamabad, Pakistan Country Office. In addition to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Islamabad Country Office also includes Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, the United Arab Emirates and Oman in its area of responsibility.


    Prices: No official prices are available. Press reports indicate that the cost for raw opium, heroin, hashish and precursor chemicals are relatively low in Afghanistan. For example, the Iranian press reports that one kilogram of heroin can be purchased for US $2,000 on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, but the price rises to US $15,000 per kilogram in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The same kilogram of heroin can be sold for US $150,000 in Moscow, Russia according to press reports.

    Prices have reportedly increased significantly in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the opium poppy cultivation ban has been in effect. White export quality heroin purchased in Pakistan has doubled in price to approximately US $4,000 since July 2000.


    Drug trafficking in the Golden Crescent appears to depend on the Taliban at this point. Although they have reportedly now banned opium poppy cultivation, the Taliban have long relied on drug trafficking for financial support.

    In order to gain international recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, the Taliban must make a convincing effort to halt drug trafficking activities. Roadblocks to international support for the Taliban remain even if the opium ban is proved successful, due to concern about harsh treatment of women, human rights abuses, and support for extremist organizations.

    Opium production may resume if the Taliban believe that the international response to their opium ban is inadequate.

    Should the opium poppy cultivation ban continue to be effectively implemented in future years, opium production may migrate to countries bordering Afghanistan.

    For the short term, an adequate supply of opiates remains available in Afghanistan despite the ban. According to UNDCP reporting, farmers have traditionally stored up to 60% of each year’s crop for future sale, which suggests that farmers themselves may have a significant amount of opium still available.
    Prepared By:

    Europe, Asia, Africa Strategic Unit (NIBE)
    Intelligence Division
    Drug Enforcement Administration






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Forums Drugs Drugs Research, Drugs Studies & Media Requests DEA Afghanistan drug intelligence briefing – November 2002