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.
Dance music festivals fuelling rise in ecstasy use among young people in South America, UNODC claims
Ecstasy and new psychoactive substances (NPS) that mimic the effects of MDMA are becoming increasingly popular among young people in South America, according to a report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In the latest edition of its Global SMART Newsletter for Latin America and the Caribbean, the agency said secondary school pupils and university students are taking the drugs in greater quantities at electronic music festivals.
The report also revealed that some Caribbean countries have experienced an uptick in the use of ecstasy-like substances largely on account of the fact that tourists are bringing the drugs with them while on holiday.
Noting that while seizures of these types of drugs are generally much lower in Latin America and the Caribbean than in North America and Europe, UNODC observes that some countries in the region have seen large amounts of ecstasy-like substances discovered by law enforcement authorities in recent years.
“The market of ecstasy in the region has evolved significantly and has become more complex over time,” the report says.
“Currently, ecstasy is available in two main forms; as tablets containing varying doses of MDMA, ranging from no MDMA at all to high doses, and as powder or in crystalline form.
“Both forms of presentation often contain substances other than MDMA, including NPS with stimulant effects.”
Looking at the emergence of NPS in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNODC said 14 countries in the region have reported the presence of 178 different synthetic drugs belonging to a diverse range of chemical groups over the course of the past decade.
In 2017, more than 60 different NPS were reported to UNODC by nine countries in the region, highlighting the emergence of a trend that the agency said presents a serious threat to public health and challenges for policy makers and law enforcement authorities there.
At the end of last week, UNODC announced that it had donated an on-site drug testing device to law enforcement agencies in Jamaica to help counter the threat of NPS in Latin America and the Caribbean.
After being presented with the device, Cheryl Spencer, UN Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Jamaica, said: “Jamaica regards this support to the country through this device as not only a tangible demonstration of international cooperation but also as technology transfer, elements which are critical to the development of small developing countries like Jamaica.”
Methamphetamine production hits record high across East and Southeast Asian countries, UNODC cautions
Production of methamphetamine has rocketed in East and Southeast Asia over the course of the past year, according to a new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The study reveals that annual seizures of methamphetamine in countries in the region other than China reached record highs in 2018, while street prices dropped significantly – a trend that analysts say indicates increasing availability of the drug.
Methamphetamine has now become the primary drug of concern in 12 out of 13 East and Southeast Asian nations, UNODC said, up from five 10 years ago.
The sole exception is Vietnam, where heroin remains the most worrying drug in terms of usage and damage caused.
In 2017, total seizures of methamphetamine across the region rose to a record 82 tons, with projected figures for last year indicating a further substantial increase to 116 tons.
Some 515 million methamphetamine pills were seized in Thailand alone last year, which represented a 17-fold increase over the total amount of the drug confiscated in the country a decade ago.
According to the report, organised crime networks in the region have been becoming increasingly involved in the production and distribution of methamphetamine and other drugs over recent years, while methamphetamine-related addiction cases have come to account for the majority of all drug-related treatment admissions in East and Southeast Asian countries.
The study also found that a wide range of new psychoactive substances (NPS) have emerged in the region, including deadly synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
As of last year, a total of 434 NPS had been detected in the region, making these drugs “a significant challenge for national authorities and people in the region”.
Elsewhere, UNODC observed that annual seizures of ketamine have been in decline since 2015, thanks in the most part to falling levels of production in China.
Niyom Termsrisuk, Secretary General of the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) of Thailand, commented: “Volumes of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs originating from the Golden Triangle to Thailand have reached unprecedented levels.
“Large amounts of synthetic drugs have been trafficked to neighbouring countries in the region, but also further. The challenge is growing, and it is critical we work with UNODC and the region to curtail flows of precursor chemicals that are being used to produce methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs.
“We will be discussing solutions with regional leaders when we host the Mekong MOU on Drug Control Ministerial Meeting in June of this year.”
Cocaine estimated to be worth $77 million seized from shipping container at Port of New York
A group of US law enforcement agencies have seized more than 1.45 tonnes of cocaine with an estimated street value of some $77 million from a shipping container passing through the Port of New York.
In a joint operation, officers from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the US Coast Guard (USCG), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the New York State Police (NYSP) found 60 packages after searching the container.
Each contained white powder that tests later proved was cocaine.
The seizure is said to be the second-largest discovery of the drug at the port in its history, and is thought to be the biggest found there in almost a quarter of a century.
Investigators said the container was examined by inspectors after it arrived on a boat from South America.
Brian Michael, Special Agent in Charge from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Newark, commented: “Transnational criminal organisations rely upon illicit networks throughout the world to supply, transport, and distribute cocaine and other dangerous drugs.
“HSI’s Border Enforcement Security Task Force in Newark, comprised of CBP, Waterfront Commission of NY Harbor Police, Hudson County Sheriff’s Office, Port Authority Police Department, and Dover Police Department working together, strengthened by HSI’s international partnerships and DHS’s combined assets, play a critical role in disrupting the worldwide cocaine chain.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan said the size of the seizure proves that traffickers are attempting to capitalise on the growing trend of drug users mixing cocaine with fentanyl, suggesting that the amount of cocaine being discovered in New York is approaching levels seen back in the 1990s.
Tyrone Woolaston was convicted of exploiting his position to smuggle at least 5kgs of the drug through the airport during a conspiracy that is thought to have lasted a number of years before he was caught.
Woolaston’s plot was discovered when police watched him pick up a case containing fake cocaine that had arrived on a flight from the Cayman Islands.
He was arrested the following day while attempting to deliver the bogus drugs to a source, at which time he was found to be illegally in the possession of a handgun.
- British men jailed over £5 million Premier League football match streaming scam
- Dance music festivals fuelling rise in ecstasy use among young people in South America, UNODC claims
- Women and young girls from Myanmar trafficked as ‘sex slaves’ to families in China, HRW report warns
- An almost endless supply of vulnerable victims makes it all but impossible to stamp out vishing fraud
- Counterfeit goods rise to account for 3.3% of all global trade, OECD report reveals
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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