Today we revisit a never published Bob Lang TOON from the Fall…
After fighting the longest war in our history, by the end of the Obama administration, the US stood at the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. How is that even possible? We have been in country for more than 16 years – deploying more than 100,000 troops, sacrificing the lives of nearly 2,300 soldiers, spending more than eleven trillion dollars on operations and another 100 billion for “nation building” projects to fund and train an army of 350,000 Afghans.
Still, thus far, we have been unable to do what so many others have also failed to do before us. But in the US failure there lies a paradox – the mightiest military on the face of the earth was ultimately stymied by a tiny flower and the illicit trafficking of opium that goes along with it.
The US military would make its first visit to the unforgiving landscape of Afghanistan to aid Muslim militants who were fighting to rid their country of the invading Soviets. This was 1979 and the US was still hurting from the Vietnam War. We would back Islamic rebels against our Cold War enemy— the CIA would provide the mujahideen guerrillas with an estimated $3bn in arms over nearly ten years—funds which along with an expanding opium harvest, would sustain the Afghan resistance for the decade it would take to force a Soviet withdrawal. You see, the CIA’s plan did not disrupt the way its Afghan allies used the country’s swelling drug traffic to sustain their decade-long struggle. We did not get in the way. This would not be the case post 9/11.
Despite nearly continuous combat since the Fall of 2001, efforts have failed to stem the Taliban insurgency, primarily due to an inability to control the cash surplus from the Afghanistan’s heroin trade. Its opium production surged from around 180 tons in 2001 to more than 3,000 tons per year after the invasion. By 2007, it would reach 8000 tons. Essentially every spring, the new opium harvest fills the Taliban’s coffers once again, funding wages for a whole new contingent of guerrilla fighters.
Today Afghanistan is little more than a narco-state where illicit drugs dominate its economy—all of which stokes corruption, sustains criminal networks and undermines any hope for legitimacy.
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