This Is What 12 Years of Failed Drug Policy Looks Like in Afghanistan

In 2000, Afghanistan reached a remarkable milestone: Opium production in the country hit a record low. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar declared its cultivation un-Islamic and initiated one of the most effective -- and most brutal -- counternarcotics campaigns in history. The Taliban used threats, public punishment, and forced eradication to eliminate poppy fields. Consequently, territory under its control saw a 99 percent reduction in acreage used to grow opium.

Fourteen years later, the Taliban's bloody gains have been mostly erased. According to a report released Thursday by the U.N., opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 36 percent from 2012 to 2013 and was the main reason global opium cultivation jumped to its highest level since 1998, when the organization began tracking it.

Since storming into Afghanistan in late 2001, NATO forces have tried to match the Taliban's eradication success. Unwilling to rely on its brutal methods, however, they have largely failed. The economic collapse that accompanied the 2001 invasion pushed many farmers to return to growing poppy. U.S.-led NATO forces' efforts were also hindered by their inability to drive the Taliban out of key poppy-growing territory -- large sections of the country never came under International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) control. Disagreement over anti-drug strategy within ISAF also made implementing an effective anti-drug campaign virtually impossible.

Moreover, in search of cash to fight Western troops, the Taliban was happy to reverse its previous stance that drugs are un-Islamic. By taxing the drug trade and opium production, the Taliban discovered a cash cow. 

Still, U.S. officials have insisted on pursuing an eradication strategy. "In purely technical terms, aerial spraying is by far the most efficient method," William B. Wood, then-U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, told NPR in 2007. "There is also a political, social, and drug environment to take into account, but we are going to use all of the tools that we can to fight drugs in Afghanistan."  

With U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, that strategy hasn't worked. According to the U.N. report, the land devoted to opium growing in Afghanistan went from 154,000 hectares in 2012 to 209,000 hectares in 2013, beating 2007's record of 193,000 hectares. The spike was mostly concentrated in nine southern and western provinces, with the biggest increases in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

The global production of opium, as opposed to the area of land under cultivation, in 2013 was estimated at 6,883 tons, which is similar to production levels in 2011 and 2008. Opium production in Afghanistan, estimated at 5,500 tons, accounted for approximately 80 percent of the global total.

With poppy growing and opium production on the upswing, Afghanistan looks like it will be the reigning champ for a while.


Andrew Burton/Getty Images


There's a New Comic Book About David Petraeus, and It's Just as Heroic as You'd Expect

Paula Broadwell's 400-page hagiography of her lover, All In: The Education of David Petraeus, wasn't enough. Now available for sale is a new type of Petraeus mythology: the retired four-star general as comic-book hero.

On Thursday, Bluewater Productions released Political Power: David Petraeus, a graphic novel that traces the rise and fall of the American military man in 22 pages. David Petraeus looks something like a violent résumé: honors achieved, schools attended, divisions commanded, accompanied by images of bearded insurgents firing machine guns. Nameless terrorists are up against a man who, at West Point, was "remembered for going for it in everything he did." Naturally, the cartoon terrorists never stood a chance.

It's no surprise that the graphic novel skews heroic. The affair that ended Petraeus's career is cast as a male slip-up in the face of "irresistible temptation," personified in Broadwell (click for a larger version):

The Iraq War is cast as a humanitarian exercise:

But the comic has its nuggets. The general's father, we learn, was named Sixtus. The name is bolded and italicized, "Sixtus," fitting of a superhero origin story. Here's Petraeus skydiving; here, he nails 50 pushups "without rest" in the hospital after an accidental gunshot wound. Hooah.

This isn't the first time Bluewater has caricaturized a public figure. Other titles include The Cast of Glee and, more recently, Beyond: Edward Snowden. A comic book on Michelle Obama sold around 100,000 copies. And the publisher has released stories on former Rep. Ron Paul, RuPaul, and, yes, Jesus Christ.

If that spread -- from RuPaul to Jesus -- seems to preclude Bluewater from standing squarely in a single political camp, you're on to something. "I try to keep everything one-banana, two-banana," Bluewater founder and publisher Darren Davis told Foreign Policy. "Whether you like Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, or whoever, you're going to get a fair, unbiased look at them."

Bluewater hopes that the book makes it to schools and libraries. "As a kid, comic books really helped my reading skills," Davis said. "So I try to appeal to that." As for the future: comics on probable 2016 presidential candidates are likely forthcoming, Davis said. One on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has already been released.

But don't expect Bluewater to delve too deeply into geopolitics. The publisher's Legend of Isis, according to a description on Bluewater's website, isn't about the Sunni insurgency -- it's about a time-travelling "Egyptian goddess" who "must adjust to her new life in 21st century Los Angeles."

Bluewater's comic doesn't tell us much about Petraeus's adjustment to life after the 2012 scandal. Instead, it leaves us with the possibility of a comeback -- "Americans love stories of redemption" -- and a reminder of Petraeus's new digs at Harvard University and the University of Southern California. So there's room for a sequel, at least in the world of comics. While we wait, we can imagine the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan with his feet up, reading and thinking: this is the education of Gen. David Petraeus.

Buewater Productions