Since the U.S. invasion in 2001 opium fields have grown rapidly. Why has the U.S. not done anything about it? In previous times the U.S. rather successfully suppressed traffic in Latin America. But in Afghanistan - no.

One of sources claiming that U.S. is just doing business.

There is also a plethora of sources about U.S. fighting for freedom and peace, like BBC. In fact, there are many source from both sides.

So, what's going on with it? And please no answers in style "democracy installing is in progress". It continues too long (17 years in fact), to answer so. Really too long for any foreign country building.

For example they can build factories/other facilities to change GDP from drugs to goods, why don't they want to do it?

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    There is a section in an wikipedia article about this that might answer your exact question: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . I'm sure someone will basically copy-paste it later to create a high-upvote answer if you would like to read it in an SE format, but there you go
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 8:50
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    "While U.S. and allied efforts to combat the drug trade have been stepped up, the effort is hampered by the fact that many suspected drug traffickers are now top officials in the Karzai government" "52% of the nation's GDP .. is generated by the drug trade" " sale of poppies constitutes the livelihood of Afghanistan's rural farmers." I don't know how you come to the conclusion that the article is about freedom in progress. If you do not trust the article, at least include a statement in your question that you are aware of "popular reasons given" and say why you don't believe them
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 8:59
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    In this case, your question isn't why they haven't stopped the drug production but why they haven't turned Afghanistan into a major economic powerhouse that doesn't rely on agriculture anymore (what happens to those farmers?) like they apparently did with Latin America with the nice side effect that the drugs stop? I think this isn't well reflected in your question currently.
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 9:04
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    For example they can build factories/other facilites to change GDP from drugs to goods, why they do not want to do it? Factories do not grow from the ground. You need infrastructure, educated people, stability to ensure that your investment is not razed in the next attack. You need raw materials and a product to produce (although with low enough wages you could create sweatshops). Your question implies that all that they need is "wanting" to...
    – SJuan76
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 10:29
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    "In previous times U.S. rather successfully suppressed traffic in Latin America" = citation?
    – user1530
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 13:25

3 Answers 3


Your question is extremely relevant and I was very surprised that nobody asked it earlier on Politics.SE: I was curious myself a month back, but didn't have to ask here because I got my answers from the very comprehensive Wikipedia article on this topic, which starts thusly:

Opium production in Afghanistan has been on the rise since U.S. occupation started in 2001. Afghanistan's opium poppy production goes into more than 90% of heroin worldwide. Afghanistan has been the world's greatest illicit opium producer (...) Afghanistan is the main producer of opium in the "Golden Crescent". Based on UNODC data, opium poppy cultivation was more in each of the growing seasons in the periods between 2004 and 2007 than in any one year during Taliban rule. More land is now used for opium in Afghanistan than is used for coca cultivation in Latin America. In 2007, 93% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan. This amounts to an export value of about $4 billion, with a quarter being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords, and drug traffickers.

The most important point quoted there, which answers your original question in a nutshell, is that [the Afghan economy is so heavily dependent on opium cultivation that]

the poppy eradication campaign (...) could well give the Taliban the decisive advantage in their struggle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

In short, strictly enforcing the anti-opium policy will drive the people into the camp of the Taliban, and USA cannot take such a risk which would greatly "strengthen the enemy" in the war against terror.

Addressing your "why can't they build factories/other facilites to change GDP from drugs to goods" edit to the Q, the logical short answer is that USA still does not have sufficient political or military control in most of the opium growing areas (or else why the war on terror continues?), and I am trying to find references to support this point.

Many articles on this topic, including the above referenced Wikipedia article, also suggest that the opium trade is mainly controlled by the same Afghan warlords whose support USA needs in the ongoing war against fundamentalist terrorism. Moreover a huge number of local farmers depend on opium for the subsistence of their families. If cracking down heavily on the opium industry will have the effect of antagonizing these warlords and alienating the common people then USA will not be able to stabilize Afghanistan beyond the influence of socially retrograde and violently fundamentalist forces, and the Taliban can make a comeback by exploiting popular anti-US sentiments that might result from a strong campaign against opium. Nor can the opium trade even be controlled effectively if the Americans lose the support of the warlords and the common people.

Your perceived lack of executive will in achieving a total control on opium cultivation in Afghanistan thus strongly suggests that the "war on drugs" is currently a lesser priority for USA than the War Against Terror.

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    For 17 years they can do even "softly" policy, but nothing we can see. NO policy in fact. And I doubt that Taliban can make terror actions out of Afghanistan - they are on their land Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 9:22
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    I have edited my answer to address your "build factories/other facilites to change GDP from drugs to goods" edit @user2501323; the logical short answer is that USA still does not have sufficient political or military control in most of the opium growing areas (or else why the war on terror continues?), but I am trying to find proper references to support this point. Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 9:26
  • You are most welcome @user2501323. Please see this answer once in a while for edits to provide better references. Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 9:28
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    Re "why can't they build factories/other facilites to change GDP from drugs to goods": Put yourself in the place of a farmer. You can stay on your land, and grow a profitable crop, or you can go work in a damned factory for subsistence wages. Which would you choose?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 18:11
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    Thanks for the suggestion @agc. Being averse to any risk that needlessly endangers the priority mission is characteristic of all occupying forces. The only historical exception was the Nazis relentlessly pursuing the Final Solution even at risk of losing the war, which they did end up losing. It is clear from the ongoing opium trade that the War on Drugs is not USA's top priority in Aghanistan. I shall try to incorporate your recommended element into my final answer. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 7:14

One of the very few good things the Taliban did while in charge of Afghanistan was crack down on opium farming as an immoral activity. However, one has to contrast that against the many bad things they did, such as executions on flimsy premises, destruction of ancient cultural artifacts, and providing a base of operations for Al Qaida, from which they launched the African embassy attacks, the USS Cole attack, and the 9/11 attacks.

One of the unfortunate side effects of deposing the Taliban was the resumption of opium farming. The coalition forces that are in Afghanistan right now have their hands full trying to deal with a resurgent Taliban presence. The current Afghan government is either incapable of, or possibly unwilling to, interrupt opium farming.

Afghanistan is a poor country. Any income is a very dear thing to the residents. Opium happens to be a fairly lucrative cash crop. To them, it's not selling poison, it's feeding their families. Doesn't work out that way when the product reaches the final consumer, but the addicts are continents away, while the farmer's family is right in front of them. Which brings up another unpleasant choice... crack down on opium farming while not offering any alternative, and the tribes turn against you. Afghanistan in decades past, and Vietnam, show what happens when the endemic population of a country turns against an occupying force.

So, rather than conspiracy theories about the US promoting opium growth, what we really have is a no win choice. Leave the Taliban in place and get more terrorist attacks. Knock them out, and as a side effect, opium production resumes, and probably will remain in production until Afghanistan has a stable government willing to choke off the opium farming by offering a viable income alternative.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan hasn't really had a stable government in all of history... it has always been, and probably always will be, a collection of regional tribes.

  • In addition the price of opium at the farm gate is around $200/kilo, but in the USA around $16,000/kilo. So the farm gate price could increase by a factor of 10 before it started to seriously dent the profits from the rest of the trade. This makes the replacement of opium farming by other trades a difficult economic proposition. Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 13:47

Let us suppose that Afghanistan is backward and that the USA is advanced and, moreover, that the difference is about 300 years.

The only way that the US could change Afghanistan in the way you suggest would take a continuous effort of 100 years. This would include the creation of an educated workforce of men and women, and the creation and establishment of the institutions required by a modern economy: rule of law, mature laws of contract, mature laws of intellectual property and real estate. Independent judiciary, honest well-paid police force. a military that is proud of is subjection to civilian rule.

All that in only 100 years. Not bad going.

But if that sounds like the US re-creating Afgahanistan in its own image the ask yourself what else could it do?

You don't have to answer because it's a pipe dream. If Afghanistan is not a wreckage in 100 years it will be because Cina sat on it and recreated it in its own authoritarian image.


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