Afghanistan's opium production skyrocketed in 2021, potentially providing the Taliban government a source of revenue between $1.8 billion and $2.7 billion, according to a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The war-torn nation's illegal opiate production in 2021 ranked as the third-highest recorded since the United Nations began reporting it in 1994. It comprised between 9 and 14 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product and exceeded the value of all of the country’s officially recorded legal exports in 2020.
The surge in opium production comes as the U.S. government allocates millions to combat the spread of illicit drugs in the country, according to SIGAR's latest report, released on Wednesday.
While the Taliban has vowed to combat opium production—even though it could serve a lucrative source of revenue for the terrorist regime—SIGAR says it "has seen no evidence that the Taliban are enforcing or can enforce such a ban. On the contrary, the opium trade in Afghanistan appears to be flourishing."
In fact, opium dealers, who once operated in the shadows while the U.S.-backed former government was in power, are now selling their drugs from "stalls in village markets," according to SIGAR's report. "Opium poppy farmers, a key constituency for the Taliban, are likely to resist a ban," the watchdog said.
The report quoted one opium seller as saying that the Taliban have "achieved what they have thanks to opium. None of us will let them ban opium unless the international community helps the Afghan people."
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has renewed its efforts to inject millions of dollars in U.S. aid into the country without formal ties with the Taliban or officially recognizing its rule.
The State Department reported last year that the U.S. Agency for International Development had "suspended all contact with the Afghan government, and terminated, suspended, or paused all on-budget assistance." The latest report, however, discloses that USAID has "resumed some off-budget," U.S.-managed activities in Afghanistan.
The White House announced last month it sent an additional $308 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, where poverty and hunger has run rampant since the Taliban in August 2021 retook control of the country amid a bungled evacuation of U.S. forces.
Still, Afghanistan's citizens are starving. More than half of the population faces a "tsunami of hunger," according to the United Nations. This is the result of "record drought, rising food prices, internal displacement, and the severe economic downturn and collapse of public services following the Taliban's return to power in August."
Around 22.8 million Afghans will be at "potentially life-threatening levels of hunger this winter," with around 8.7 million facing "near-famine conditions." Another one million are at risk of dying, according to SIGAR, which cites statistics from a recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification study.
Up to 97 percent of Afghanistan's population is now at risk of slipping below the poverty line by mid-2022 "as a result of the worsening political and economic crises," according to the report.
Additionally, the Biden administration's failure to evacuate skilled Afghan soldiers who worked for the country's former fighting force has likely led to them joining the ISIS terrorist group, according to the SIGAR report.
In an interview with former Afghan general Sami Sadat, SIGAR learned that "Afghan fighters, especially commandos and intelligence officers, could lead to IS-K's resurgence. Sadat said these people would be especially vulnerable to IS-K recruitment. Sadat added that this issue needs to be addressed more systematically, noting that IS-K may have the capability to take eastern Afghanistan quickly and establish itself in Kabul within a year."