The DEA is really pleased with itself:
Opium seizures in Afghanistan soared 924 percent last year because of better cooperation between Afghan and international forces, the top U.S. drug enforcement official said Thursday.
The Taliban largely funds its insurgency by profits from the opium trade, making it a growing target of U.S. and Afghan anti-insurgency operations. Afghanistan produces the raw opium used to make 90 percent of the world’s heroin.
Leonhart did not give figures for total amounts of drugs seized but said the increase was 924 percent between 2008 and 2009. The United Nations reported 50 tons of opium was seized in the first half of last year.
So, let’s crunch these numbers in a very basic way. Let’s assume that 2009 saw 100 tons of opium seized (this is very ballpark, since harvesting time and processing delays mean there is not a steady flow, but we’re remaining simple here). That would mean in 2008 they only seized around 9 or 10 tons of opium. Just for context’s sake, the UNODC estimated in 2009 that Afghanistan produced nearly 8,500 tons of opium for export.
A 924% increase sounds like a lot. But percentages always do. I can raise profits by 1000% in a single month, but if my original profit was $1, then it’s really not saying too much. This remains a pathetic drop in the bucket, and ensures drug prices stay high (i.e. “profitable”).
Final quibble: why do journalists insist the “Taliban largely funds its insurgency by profits from the opium trade?” The only people to assert this are the DEA, who have something of a vested interest in making the war all about drugs (Gretchen Peters relates an anecdote in her book, where a DEA agent in Islamabad was dumbfounded that the 1980s support for the mujahidin wasn’t about stopping drugs, but stopping the Soviet Union). Other government agencies involved in threat finance and counter-drugs operations like the DIA and CIA vigorously dispute this assertion—The CIA has explicitly stated the insurgency gets far more money from private donations, ransom and extortion, and taxation than they do from opium. Why do we zero in on drugs as if they are the secret to winning the war? It’s non-sensical.