US airstrikes have returned to Afghanistan with renewed vigour in the past few months, but their targets have switched, from insurgent bases to opiate storage and processing facilities. At least 11 airstrikes have been conducted between the 3rd and 4th of April alone in the Western Afghan provinces of Farah and Nimroz. The total number of airstrikes within the first two months of 2018 has tripled when compared to 2017.
This is not, however, a simple return to a hard-line counter-narcotics approach. These airstrikes are destroying these facilities and those caught within, effectively killing local Afghans for alleged drug offences. Attempts by the Bush administration to authorize such strikes in 2008 had faced considerable opposition from NATO allies. The current US administration has clearly shifted its priorities.
Such escalation ignores the historical and recent background of the opium trade. The rise of Afghanistan as the world’s primary producer of opium, sometimes accounting for 90% of the global total, has roots on other failed drug wars. Specifically, on those of the 1970s and 1980s that led to increases in drug production along with a spread of production centres.
The official NATO line justifies such strikes as a “counter-revenue campaign”, aimed at separating Afghanistan’s main insurgency group, the Taliban, from its alleged main source of revenue. Current estimates by US forces in Afghanistan for opium based revenue for the Taliban are of roughly $200 million annually. New guidelines that allow military strikes to consider any person alleged to be involved in the provision of revenue to terrorists also results in US claims that none of these incidents have resulted in civilian casualties.
Such framing of the local context is problematic. Many of these facilities may simply be opium storage facilities rather than heroin processing labs. Even those labs, however, are likely to have considerable levels of locals participating in the process. While there is a reasonable argument to be made towards connections between such facilities and criminal networks, the link between such facilities and the larger insurgency movement is tenuous.
Even if every single one of these facilities are indeed heroin processing labs, Afghan opium expert David Mansfield insightfully summarizes the issues with relying on airstrikes. These labs can only have a negligible role on Taliban revenues, with US revenue estimates often grouping disparate criminal and insurgent networks. Opium market profits and revenues at the local level are also much lower than after value is added by other criminal smuggling networks which are unlikely to be affected by these airstrikes at all.
If one does accept the argument that such facilities have a non-negligible role in funding Taliban activities, one must wonder about the overall impact of the resulting death toll. Late 2017 saw 44 “drug smugglers” being killed as part of a concerted effort to target such facilities in Helmand province alone. Inflicting casualties on locals, particularly income-earning members of rural families, is likely to severely undercut any counterinsurgency efforts in that area. Such an approach becomes even harder to justify when alternative hard-line but less indiscriminate options are available. A raid in the Marja district in Helmand on the 14th of April 2018 exemplifies such options, where over 9 tons of opium poppy and 1.25 tons of heroin were seized. While such alternatives are considerably riskier for counterinsurgents to conduct, they keep local casualties to a minimum.
The fact is that there are no easy solutions to the currently vast opium market in Afghanistan. Typical suggested solutions are an amalgamation of economic development and agricultural revitalization. Unfortunately, programs meant to improve local agricultural production, such as improved irrigation networks and market access roads, often feed into increased opium production levels. Such solutions ignore the problematic approach at the core of counterinsurgency failures in Afghanistan, an insistence on treating problems in isolation of one another. The agricultural market, the opium trade, the insurgency are deeply interconnected dimensions of the country. In order to undertake successful state-building, policies meant to address any individual issue need to take these other ones into account. Otherwise, addressing them in isolation or simply failing to strike a balance in responding to them can be worse than useless, it can be actively counterproductive.
Drug traffickers using private airstrips and ports in the Philippines to import narcotics, authorities warn
Drug investigators in the Philippines are introducing new measures intended to prevent the importation of illicit substances through the country’s hundreds of private airstrips and ports, according to the country’s state-run news agency.
In an interview published on Friday, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) boss Aaron Aquino said traffickers are routinely using unmanned runways and private ports as landing spots for private airplanes, seaplanes and yachts carrying large quantities of illegal drugs.
Aquino raised his concerns after the issue was discussed during the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) Enforcement Cluster Meeting, which was held earlier this month in Quezon City.
The PDEA is now lobbying for the establishment of a new inter-agency taskforce designed to stop drug traffickers from using the country’s 1,200 private ports as entry points.
“Before, drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are shipping tons of illegal drugs, either finished products or raw materials, through shipside smuggling in the high seas, airports and seaports. But now, they have included in their itineraries unmanned landing strips and private ports as drug transit routes,” Aquino said.
“Airstrips have no airport facilities that is why proper documentation of the name of the arriving passenger/s, cargo details, among others, remains a problem. There is also a possibility that foreign chemists flew in and out of the country via the backdoor using the runways and open seas.”
Separately, the Philippine Information Agency has announced that the PDEA has opened a dedicated rehabilitation centre for glue sniffers in Quezon City.
Opening the Sagip Batang Solvent Reformation Centre, Aquino said the facility would help take children and young people off the street and keep them away from drug use.
Workers at the new site will offer reformative care and reintegrated interventions such as education, counselling, values formation and skills development.
The centre is currently treating 28 solvent abusers, the youngest of whom is aged just 11, the PDEA said.
Impoverished children living in slums across the Philippines regularly sniff glue as a means by which to alleviate their hunger and escape from the squalid nature of their environment.
The industrial solvents they inhale can cause sudden death, brain damage, memory loss and harm to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver.
Children addicted to glue and other solvents in the Philippines often fund their habits through petty crime such as street robberies, extortion and drug dealing.
Earlier this month, the PDEA launched a new programme that will see solvent abusers housed in government institutions until they address their addictions.
Wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA
Consumption of heroin and MDMA has risen to the highest levels ever recorded in Australia by an annual study that measures the presence of illicit substances in the country’s wastewater.
The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), also showed that Australians now use twice as much methamphetamine as any other illicit drug.
According to the study, Australia ranks second for methamphetamine and MDMA use among 25 countries that produce comparable stimulant data, but has relatively low comparative cocaine consumption.
The study revealed that while the consumption of nicotine and alcohol fell across the country in the 12 months to December last year, use of methamphetamine continued to outstrip the consumption of all other illicit drug types and pharmaceuticals.
The report estimates that Australia’s annual consumption of methamphetamine has reached nearly 10 tonnes, which compares to just over four tonnes of cocaine, and 750kgs of heroin.
Australian drug users are thought to favour synthetic narcotics on account of the cost and expense of shipping substances such as heroin and cocaine into the country from the regions in which they are grown.
The study also found that while use of synthetic opioid fentanyl plateaued in the final six months of 2018, oxycodone consumption rose over the same period.
On a regional basis, South and Western Australia were found to have the highest average use of methamphetamine, while Victoria had the highest rate of heroin consumption, and New South Wales the top level of cocaine use.
Unveiling the latest edition of the report, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan said: “The Australian community continues to consume illicit drugs at concerning levels and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is providing an important, unified and consistent guiding tool for developing holistic drug responses.
“We are only now starting to realise the full benefits of the ongoing programme.”
The study found that average heroin consumption decreased in both capital city and regional areas, while average cannabis consumption increased in both city and regional sites.
The ACIC noted that the report covered 54% of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.6 million people, and that 50 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the December 2018 collection, monitoring the consumption of 13 substances.
Earlier this month, the Australian Border Force (ABF) announced that it had seized 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine, which was said to have been the largest shipment of the drug ever discovered in the country.
Australian police smash gang that smuggled methamphetamine from US to Queensland in comic books
Law enforcement authorities in Australia have broken up an organised crime gang that trafficked large quantities of drugs into the country from the US by hiding them in comic books.
Raids carried out on properties linked to group that took place at the end of a six-month investigation conducted by officers from the Queensland Police Service (QPS) resulted in the seizure of 3kgs of methamphetamine with an estimated value of more than A$1 million ($695,000), cannabis, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), drug paraphernalia and an amount of cash.
QPS detectives arrested 10 suspected members of the gang and charged them with 40 offences, including the trafficking and supply of dangerous drugs, money laundering, importing a border-restricted drug, possession of dangerous drugs, stealing, possession of drug utensils and possession of the proceeds of crime.
The ringleader of the group, who police described as a 49-year-old Gold Coast man of no fixed abode, is said to have travelled regularly to the US, where he is thought to have coordinated the trafficking of narcotics via courier services to Queensland from southern California, which investigators noted is close to the US border with Mexico.
Images posted online by police show how those involved in the trafficking conspiracy concealed bags of methamphetamine inside comic books before sending them to Queensland, where gang members on the Australian side of the operation would then distribute the drugs across the Gold Coast.
Commenting on the success of the operation, Detective Inspector Brendan Smith said the negative impact of methamphetamine on the local community was impossible to overstate.
“This operation has dismantled a significant criminal network and removed over 30,000 hits off Queensland streets,” he said in a statement.
“This operation clearly demonstrates our ability to bring resources to bear on those involved in the supply of this insidious drug.
“Our efforts will continue, and offenders need to understand every opportunity to bring then before the court will be taken regardless of the location or time of day.”
Smith said intelligence gathered from sources linked to the gang resulted in its members’ detention, adding that the alleged leader of the operation had travelled to the US on more than a dozen occasion since October last year.
The suspects arrested and charged in connection with the conspiracy will appear before the courts over the course of the coming month while investigations into their activities continue, the QPS said.
- Governments are right to do all they can to prevent Daesh foreign fighters returning ‘home’
- Singaporean woman facing 20 years in jail for printing homemade bogus banknotes
- Drug traffickers using private airstrips and ports in the Philippines to import narcotics, authorities warn
- Global food fraud crackdown results in seizure of goods worth $117 million and arrest of 672 suspects
- US State Department adds Saudi Arabia and Cuba to human trafficking blacklist
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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