Are US troops protecting opium fields in Afghanistan?

I have a buddy who believes in a lot of conspiracy theories. Whenever we talk about the drug war, he always claims US troops are “protecting and harvesting opium/heroin in Afghanistan.”

I am skeptical about this. I did some google searches and found a few sites with photos that appear to show our troops walking around in poppy fields. But I am still dubious. What’s the straight dope?

The US Armyis not actively destroying drug fields. However, they are not “protecting” them either. Its more accurate to say we are completely ignoring them.

If we’re protecting anything, it wouldn’t be the fields, but the plants. :stuck_out_tongue:

Or, even more correctly, some, somewhat cooperative tribal chiefs profiting from said plants (in contrast with other, less cooperative chiefs whose crops are destroyed).

(Just an assumption; I have no cite for this!)

Medical-grade morphine comes from somewhere, doesn’t it?

Medical opiates are produced from plants cultivated by licensed growers in Turkey and India. There is no licensed cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan.

Early in the US invasion of Afghanistan there were efforts to reduce opium poppy cultivation (which was initially suspected of funding terrorist groups, although it became apparent that the majority of actual funding sources were external to Afghanistan) but that just resulted in more poverty and resentment of the US troops for taking away a revenue source. Even before the start of the troop drawdown in 2011 the US turned a blind eye to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, and local law enforcement ignores or may even provide protection for the cultivation of what is, after all, a significant revenue stream for a nation that essentially has no manufacturing or industrial infrastructure.


US troops aren’t protecting much of anything, now that there are only 10,000 of them in Afghanistan. But to better answer your question, no, US troops are not now and never did protect opium fields.

  1. I have also seen photos of soldiers walking alongside these plants. What does that prove? That they are operating in an opium-rich area? It’s Afghanistan. Of course there are poppy fields. What do you expect them to do about it? The unit isn’t going to abandon whatever mission it was one the first time someone finds an opium plant.

Soldier: “Hey Sarge, I found a poppy!”
Sergeant: “Holy shit! A poppy! Are you kidding me? Everyone stop! Find a flamethrower! We have to deal with this right goddamned now!”
2) Every soldier that goes to Afghanistan costs $$$, not just in transportation costs but also food, housing, equipment, etc. Congress only authorizes a limited amount of soldiers to be in theater at any given time. We can’t just flood an unlimited number of soldiers into theater. So every soldier that you task to perform poppy eradication is one soldier that is cannot be tasked with hunting the enemy. Which task should take priority, then?

  1. The US DID, in fact, invest a significant amount into poppy eradication. Something like $7.6 billion at last report. Again, I have to ask, what do you really expect them to do about it? They burn a poppy field and it just gets replanted next season. There is no way to permanently and completely wipe out every opium plant at once. Do you expect us to be dropping Agent Orange over half of Helmand province? Because that worked out so well last time we tried it? Come to think of it, when have drug eradication efforts EVER been a phenomenal success?

  2. What do you think happens when someone DOES burn a poppy field? Do you really think the Afghan farmers just plant wheat instead? Afghanistan is basically THE poorest country on Earth. Farmers make vastly more money off opium than they would from food crops. More importantly, they often go into debt with warlords and drug smugglers to fund their poppy fields in the first place. So when the eradication teams wipe out a poppy field, how does that look to them? When you eradicate someone’s livelihood and they have to sell their daughters as sex slaves to pay off their debts to drug dealers, they tend to be rather cross with you. To put it mildly. So then they join the Taliban or whatever other drug-fueled insurgent group is operating in their area and they try to take revenge on the evil foreigners who burned their crops. It’s not like they can just get a job at Wal-Mart, after all. So in the long run you just end up pissing people off and creating more terrorists/insurgents.

If you can figure out how to untangle that ball of string in a way that makes everyone happy, please let me know.

Poppies cannot be eradicated in one fell swoop. They stubbornly regrow from the roots every year. Victory Gardener James Crockett, writing about garden poppies, told of people who tried unsuccessfully to transplant a poppy patch, only to see a fresh crop of poppies springing vigorously from the former poppy patch.

And the seeds can rest dormant in the earth for decades, to suddenly sprout when the right conditions arise – which is, incidentally, when the soil is disturbed, for example by detonating grenades!

In Flanders fields the poppies blow…