United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published a comprehensive report about drug production and cultivation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan currently exports the largest amount of heroin in the world.
The report notes that the amount of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan steadily increased throughout 2017, which is necessary for increasing heroin production. Thousands of production laboratories produce heroin in Afghanistan.
Raw opium may be sold to a merchant or broker on the black market, but it usually does not travel far from the field before it is refined into morphine base, because pungent, jelly-like raw opium is bulkier and harder to smuggle. Crude laboratories in the field are capable of refining opium into morphine base by a simple acid-base extraction. A sticky, brown paste, morphine base is pressed into bricks and sun-dried, and can either be smoked, prepared into other forms or processed into heroin. Morphine is converted into heroin by a simple chemical reaction, followed by a varying degree of purification.
The chart below show that the Taliban tried to curb the drug production in Afghanistan, as a way to earn international recognition, with record low of only 8 thousand hectares of opium poppy fields in 2001. After the foreign intervention, ensuing 16 years show incredible rise of opium poppy cultivation to estimated 328 thousand hectares. The US’s “fight against drugs” is either woefully inefficient, or deliberately so.
Compare to the chart of US Troop Levels in Afghanistan since 2001 to 2016:
While you can see the drop starting at 2012, the amount of the US-employed PMCs in Afghanistan was still sizeable:
Here are the numbers of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), Afghan National Army (ANA) and The Afghan National Police (ANP) from 2007 to 2011. Their rising numbers correspond with the drop of opium cultivation in the region.
This next chart demonstrates the cost of opium in Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces. The graph peaks in 2001, corresponding with Taliban’s attempts of fighting drug production. After the foreign intervention, opium prices started to go down.
Comparatively, here are the prices per gram of heroin in the US and Western Europe over the years.
For twenty years Tajikistan has been a key transit country for Afghanistan-produced opiates on the so called Northern Route, which goes through Central Asian countries to Russia and Europe. 1 gram of heroin costs about $7 in Tajikistan.
The new overall rise of production and cultivation corresponds with the further deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan despite the increased presence of the US-led coalition in the country.