Cut in Half, Doubled, Whatever


Here's some more evidence that former drug czar Barry McCaffrey had no idea what he was talking about when he claimed, fresh from a trip to Afghanistan, that "opium production has been dramatically slashed by 48% just in the past year": The Guardian reports that Helmand, the province in southern Afghanistan patrolled by British troops, is expected to "produce at least a third of the world's heroin this year" all on its own:

Drug experts [i.e., not Barry McCaffrey]…are forecasting a record harvest that will be an embarrassment for the western-funded war on narcotics….

British officials are bracing themselves for the result of an annual UN poppy survey due later this summer. Early indications show an increase on Helmand's 1999 record of 45,000 hectares (112,500 acres) and a near-doubling of last year's crop.

"It's going to be massive," said one British drugs official. "My guess is it's going to be the biggest ever."

Helmand's bumper harvest highlights the failure of western counter-narcotics efforts that have cost at least $2bn (£1.1bn) since 2001.

As I suspected, McCaffrey apparently was talking about a reduction in opium poppy acreage, not in opium production, and he was referring to the change between 2004 and 2005, not between last year and this year. Last November the Office of National Drug Control Policy said "approximately 107,400 hectares of poppy were cultivated during the crop season in 2005—a decline of 48 percent [from] the 2004 level." But it added that, because of "favorable growing conditions," yields per acre had increased and total opium production had fallen by only 10 percent. This year both cultivation and production are up.

Anticipating the inevitable calls to "get serious" and crack down on poppy cultivation through aerial spraying (if not through Taliban-style summary execution of growers), one official warns that "it could drive farmers into the hands of the insurgents." No kidding.

[Thanks to Kirk Gray for the Guardian link.]