A multinational task force recovered over $55 million worth of heroin in a significant international drug operation Thursday in the eastern part of Afghanistan, along the mountainous border with Pakistan. Officials say the proceeds for the sale of heroin has helped fund insurgent activities in the region.
The counternarcotics operation took place in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, relying on intelligence to take down a heroin lab that was known as the "Tar Pit." Drug Enforcement Administration agents, along with Afghan National Forces, State Department and U.S. military personnel and equipment, and Russian counternarcotics officers seized over a ton of heroin, and a large amount of opium. The operation targeted three clandestine heroin labs and a morphine lab.
According to DEA officials, DEA and Afghan intelligence assets have been working to disrupt a prominent drug trafficker in the area and his organization. Although the labs and area had been abandoned when the task force team arrived, analysis showed that all of the labs were fully operational and producing heroin and morphine.
According to a United Nations assessment released last month, Nangarhar province had been poppy free in 2008 but cultivation has now returned to the region.
U.S. authorities hope the operation leads to others, and that the word spreads within the region's drug trade that it's not safe to be involved in the heroin trade.
According to U.S. officials, Russian counternarcotics officers were involved since a vast amount of heroin is trafficked through Russia to supply Western Europe. In recent weeks Russian officials have openly pressed the U.S. and Afghanistan to do more to target the heroin labs and production facilities. Heroin use and HIV rates in Russia among drug users are alarming high.
DEA agents once operated in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion in 1979 and returned to the war-torn country in 2003. The agency has roughly 80 agents deployed there now.
U.S. officials note that the poppy and heroin trade have helped fuel rampant corruption in the Afghan government, contributing to a cycle of ineffective government controls especially as the security situation has deteriorated in the past several years.
While the DEA and NATO coalition partners have worked on eradication efforts in the past, destroying poppy fields has been a sensitive issue among farmers and landowners in Afghanistan who can get substantially more money by growing poppy than they can from normal agriculture crops.