The latest report on Afghanistan's opium economy from the U.N.'s drug tsar, Antonio Maria Costa, only confirms what sensible people foretold six years ago: that the Wars on Drugs and Terror are inexorably linked.
Briefly, here's the latest: Overall, opium cultivation is down significantly across Afghanistan. Ninety-eight percent of the country's opium last year was sourced to seven provinces in the south and southwest where Taliban control is strongest. The Taliban raked in as much as $300 million from the opium trade last year, but supply vastly exceeds demand and prices are falling. As such, there's anecdotal evidence that, just as it did in 2001, the Taliban is purposely curtailing opium cultivation to drive up prices on its significant stockpiles.
As I've written before, the West's failure to aggressively battle Afghanistan's drug trade has enriched the Taliban, institutionalized corruption, impeded government control, and cemented the trafficking routes that also carry weapons and fighters. Handing out wheat seeds and fatwas only goes so far, and eradicating farmers' plots is only a token gesture that hits too far down the food chain. With the opium trade now more concentrated in the hands of those who matter, the time for an assertive interdiction campaign is long overdue.
As Costa remarked, "Opium production and prices can both be kept down by destroying high-value targets like drug markets, heroin labs, and trafficking convoys." Interdiction like that requires muscle, and the handful of DEA agents and their mentored Afghan units can't do it alone. NATO forces—and particularly the Pentagon—should drop their bureaucratic objections and get involved. Like it or not, the Taliban is a drug cartel, and to ignore that means fighting only half a war.