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Drug Trafficking

Analysis: Washington’s War on Opium

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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.

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Woman carrying container of crystal meth inside her vagina arrested on US/Mexico border

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crystal meth inside her vagina

Customs agents working om the US/Mexico border have arrested a woman who was found to be carrying more than 22 grams of methamphetamine concealed inside her vagina.

Last Thursday afternoon, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers working at the Paso Del Norte crossing stopped a 32-year-old US woman who was attempting to cross into America on foot.

Having taken the woman to one side for additional searches, the agents used a sniffer dog to establish whether or not she was carrying any contraband.

After the dog alerted its handlers to the area below the woman’s midriff, a more detailed search revealed that she had partially concealed a cylindrical container that was holding a quantity of methamphetamine inside her vaginal cavity.

Investigators also discovered two other packages of drugs concealed about her person.

Once tests had confirmed the substance was methamphetamine, the woman was handed over to US Customs and Immigration Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations agents, who charged her with the botched smuggling attempt.

In a statement, CBP El Paso Director of Field Operations Hector Mancha said: “Homeland security is our primary mission however the vigilance and attention to detail applied by the CBP workforce routinely uncovers drug smuggling cases as well.

“Every drug load we stop helps keep our local community safe as well as those in America’s heartland.”

The seizure was one of 14 drug confiscations made by CBP agents working at ports of entry in El Paso, west Texas, last week, which included more than 405kgs of cannabis, over 16kgs of cocaine, and a total of in excess of 23kgs of methamphetamine.

Earlier this month, it was reported that border agents at Nepal’s Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport had arrested a man after catching him with 1kg of gold plugged inside his backside.

Chinese national Sa Luitui, 22, was asked to step to one side having alighted from a Tibet Air flight from his home country by customs workers who noticed he was walking in a peculiar fashion.

Attempting to smuggle even relatively small amounts of drugs internally can have catastrophic consequences, including serious injury and death.

Back in January 2016, Metro reported that an Iraq veteran from the UK had died after hiding a bag of cocaine inside his rectum to prevent his girlfriend from discovering he was bringing drugs into her home.

A coroner ruled that Geraint Jones, 32, died of a heart attack after the drugs were absorbed into his soft tissue.

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Colombian and Spanish police smash two drug labs capable of producing two tonnes of cocaine a month

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Colombian and Spanish police smash two drug labs

Police in Spain have teamed up with their counterparts in Colombia to shut down two clandestine cocaine processing facilities said to have been capable of pumping out two tonnes of the drug every month.

One of the factories was located in the Spanish municipality of Casasbuenas in the province of Toledo, while the other was found deep in the Colombian jungle and was controlled by Front 21 of the FARC dissidents.

At the Spanish site, investigators arrested four Colombian nationals who are said to have been brought into the country specifically to turn coca base into high-purity cocaine.

Agents from Spain’s elite Grupo Especial de Operaciones (GEO) unit also detained an armed individual whose job it was to guard the facility and monitor the work of the four Colombian cocaine “cooks”.

As well as making the arrests, Spanish officers also seized 150kgs of coca base, 7kgs of cocaine that had been processed and was ready for distribution, seven tonnes of chemicals used as precursors for the production of cocaine hydrochloride, a gun and more than €100,000 ($110,744) in cash.

Meanwhile on the Colombian side of the operation, another secret laboratory was raided in the jungle in Tolima that was used for the processing of cocaine base paste and cocaine hydrochloride.

Police in Colombia seized 260 litres of coca base that was being processed, 400kgs of coca leaf, and a large quantity of precursor chemicals.

In total, nine people were arrested in Spain, including the leader of the organisation and his lieutenant, who controlled another centre for the adulteration and cutting of cocaine in the province of Guadalajara.

One of the suspects is reported to have owned a network of front companies that the gang used to import coal from South America that had been impregnated with cocaine.

Once the coal had entered Spain, it would be transferred to processing plants where experts would use special technique to extract the cocaine before preparing it for distribution.

A joint intranational investigation into the gang’s activities was launched in the first few months of this year when authorities in Colombia learned that a Colombian national was plotting to set up a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine hidden in different legal merchandise into Spain before using clandestine factories to extract the drugs and ready them for sale.

Back in May, it was reported that Spanish investigators had broken up a Colombian gang that impregnated cocaine into plastic pellets before smuggling them to Madrid and Toledo for extraction.

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UK drug gang bosses jailed for importing huge quantities of cocaine and heroin in frozen chickens

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cocaine and heroin in chickens

The leaders of a British drug trafficking network who masterminded a plot to smuggle massive quantities of cocaine and heroin into the UK concealed in shipments of frozen chicken have been jailed for a total of nearly 44 years.

Wasim Hussain and Nazarat Hussain, who are not related, were convicted at Birmingham Crown Court of establishing a string of businesses involved in the importation of chicken from the Netherlands as a front for their drug smuggling conspiracy.

The gang bosses were caught after customs officers discovered heroin and cocaine worth an estimated £5 million ($6.45 million) hidden in chicken shipments on three separate occasions.

After launching an investigation, officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA), which is often referred to as the UK’s FBI, identified 16 similar shipments they suspect may have been used to import drugs.

After the interception of the first two shipments, the gang would set up a new cover company as part of an effort to cover its tracks and press on with its drugs importation plot.

In a separate conspiracy launched after the interception of two of their shipments and the arrest of two gang members, the drug kingpins paid two crooked baggage handlers to help them import 3kgs of high-purity cocaine on a flight from Brazil to London Heathrow.

The leaders of the gang were finally apprehended when Dutch police helped the NCA intercept a third shipment of drugs hidden in a consignment of chicken.

Sentencing the men for importing at least 300kgs of class A drugs into the UK and several other offences, Judge Roderick Henderson jailed Nazarat Hussain, 36, for 29-and-a-half years.

Wasim Hussain, 34, was handed a sentence of 14 years and four months.

In a statement, NCA Branch Operations Manager Colin Williams said: “Throughout the course of this investigation, which has gone on for more than three years, we have systematically dismantled an organised crime group that was involved in the importation and distribution of class A drugs across the West Midlands.

“As well as drugs, the gang also attempted to source firearms, presumably to be used to threaten others in support of their criminality.

“The investigation has uncovered links to criminal networks in London and the Netherlands, and our partnership with the Dutch police was crucial.

“We worked our way through the group until we managed to reach the two men at the very top – Wasim Hussain and Nazarat Hussain.”

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