Issue Briefs

Why Does US ‘Liberation’ Make Drug Problems in Nations from Afghanistan to Ukraine Far Worse?

Why Does US ‘Liberation’ Make Drug Problems in Nations from Afghanistan to Ukraine Far Worse?

Martin Sieff      

April 15, 2016                                                                                                                                                                          

Does liberation and subsequent occupation by US forces fan the flames of drug addiction and “integrate” previously insulate nations into the global or international drug economy? The question is an embarrassing one, but the data to support this contention appears irrefutable: Because it comes from the US government itself.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) is an enormous global survey compiled annual by the State Department and organized helpfully and concisely with separate reports and assessments for every country. The 2016 INCSR was released on March 2. Its individual country sections on Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine make sobering reading.

Over the past 13 years, scores of thousands of brave American soldiers have fought and many of them died or lost their limbs in continuous military operations in Iraq to bring peace, security and freedom from Islamic terrorism for that unhappy country.

But they also brought a vast explosion of hard drug addiction, the INCSR documents.

In the years that followed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple longtime dictator Saddam Hussein, the number of drug abusers grew fourfold across the nation, the report acknowledged this week.

The report noted that a 2015 survey carried out by the US government and the Iraqi Ministry of Health confirmed that four times as many Iraqis are using hard drugs compared with 12 years ago.

“The results of the survey report show an increase in substance abuse, with a 3.7 percent lifetime prevalence use rate, as compared with a 2004 WHO [World Health Organization] report indicating a less than one percent rate,” the report stated.

“Iraq continues to be a transit country for illicit drugs, with growing rates of substance abuse due to an upsurge in trafficking of pharmaceuticals and other synthetic drugs…. Heroin, opium, methamphetamine, and hashish are transported through Iran into Iraq, and then onward to international markets,” it continued.

The INCSR painted a similarly discouraging picture about Afghanistan, where US forces have been operating continually in support of supposedly enlightened nation-building policies since the end of 2001.

As drug production continues to flourish in Afghanistan, the report acknowledged that the agencies of the US government were losing their much-touted war on drugs in that country too.

“The cultivation, production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs flourish in Afghanistan,” the INCSR said.

Not surprisingly, the report acknowledged that a symbiotic relationship exists between the insurgency in Afghanistan and organized narcotics trafficking.

“2015 saw a resurgence of the security challenges seen in earlier periods of the insurgency, and the intensity of active battles undermined progress toward the Afghan government’s drug control goals,” the report admitted.

In fact, over the past 14 years, the United States has spent $8 billion fighting opium production in Afghanistan. Yet it has failed miserably.

The INCSR explained that drug traffickers provide weapons and funding to the Afghan insurgency in exchange for the protection of drug trade routes, cultivation fields, laboratories and trafficking organizations. The Taliban generates revenue by taxing drugs trafficked through areas they control, it added.

However, the bottom line of the Afghanistan assessment remained stark and incontrovertible: Since the United States charged into Afghanistan in late 2001 and stayed to remake the country into a modern, Westernized, secular democracy and unified state, drug addiction among the Afghan people has soared.

Afghanistan today has one of the highest substance abuse rates in the world with an estimated 3 million people being addicted, or 11 percent of the population, the INCSR flatly stated.

This depressing dynamic is not limited to Muslim nations. The INCSR country report on Ukraine tells a similar story: The Kiev government officially lists just over 68,000 registered drug addicts, but the real number may be as high as half a million people, it said.

“The number of registered drug addicts was 68,220 as of May 2015,” the report stated. “However, various experts estimate the actual total number of people with substance use disorders in Ukraine could be as high as 500,000.”

Heroin from Afghanistan is trafficked through the Caucasus and Turkey before passing through Ukraine while cocaine originating from South America is moved through Ukrainian seaports and airports for both domestic use and further transit to European Union nations, the report explained.

Synthetic drugs are trafficked to Ukraine primarily from Poland, Lithuania and the Netherlands, the report added. Law enforcement officials from other countries have documented that heroin from Afghanistan is also transported into Ukraine via Kosovo, which has become Europe’s main heroin and other drugs’ distribution center.

These trends did not start with the toppling of President Viktor Yanukoyvch’s government in 2014 in the so-called Maidan Revolution. But they have accelerated and gotten far worse under the chaotic rule of current President Petro Poroshenko.

At the very least, the raw data in this year’s INCSR should provoke the Obama administration and leaders in Congress to rethink US policies in the international war on drugs: Wherever one looks, the current trends and hard metrics are not positive.


Martin Sieff is a Global Policy Institute Fellow. He is a national columnist for the Post-Examiner online newspapers in Los Angeles and Baltimore. He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting. Mr. Sieff served as Managing Editor, International Affairs, Chief news Analyst, Defense Industry Editor, and Chief Political Correspondent at United Press International (UPI) from 1999 to 2009. He was Chief Foreign Correspondent for The Washington Times as its Soviet and East European correspondent covering the collapse of communism from 1986 to 1992, and then its State Department correspondent from 1992 to 1999. He is the former Chief Global Analyst at The Globalist. and former senior correspondent for the Asia Pacific Defense Forum.  He is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly in Doha and to the China Daily. 

He is the author of many books including: The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East (2008); Shifting Superpowers: The New and Emerging Relationship between the United States, China and India (2010); That Should Still Be US: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths are Keeping Us on Our Knees (2012). Mr. Sieff received his BA and MA in Modern History from Oxford University, and did his graduate studies on the Middle East at the London School of Economics.