US military bombings that targeted alleged Taliban heroin labs in Afghanistan in late 2017 may have actually hurt rural farmers without any of their intended effects on Taliban operations and finances, as the Pentagon claimed, according to a report released by the London School of Economics’ Drug Policy Unit and authored by David Mansfield. Referring to the bombing campaign, Mansfield said, “By and large, the campaign will not make a significant dent in Taliban financing.”
In February 2018, AlterNet covered the report and its key findings, including the conclusion that, even though the US alleges that its attacks exclusively targeted “Taliban drug labs,” this may not true. According to Phillip Smith’s AlterNet article, Helmand province members of parliament contested the official account, and a local informant said of those targeted, “These are not Taliban. They killed women and children, NATO killed them.”
In December, 2017, a Pentagon spokesperson reported that the bombings, conducted by US military forces in cooperation with Afghan forces, had destroyed $80 million worth of heroin, resulting in a $16 million loss for the Taliban. By contrast, the London School of Economics (LSE) report concluded that the Pentagon assessment overestimated the results of its campaign considerably. The destroyed opium would have been worth “at most $190,750 if converted to heroin and no more than $2,863 to the Taliban in tax,” according to the report.
Noting that the “human cost” of the air strikes is “unquantifiable,” the LSE report concluded, “Given these costs and the negligible impact on drugs trafficking and the Taliban’s revenues, we have to wonder what the air campaign against drugs labs is actually designed to achieve… [W]hile the script and direction of the current campaign against drugs labs has taken on the appearance of counternarcotics, the costs simply don’t merit the benefits. So much so they might question whether the actual audience for this piece of theatre has any interest in drugs and drugs policy at all.”
Although the bombing campaign received some corporate media coverage when it began, these reports did not question the official versions of who was targeted and to what effect.
Source: Phillip Smith, “The U.S. Bombing Campaign Against ‘Taliban Heroin Labs’ Is Bad Drug War Theater,” AlterNet, February 8, 2018, https://www.alternet.org/drugs/us-bombing-campaign-taliban-heroin-labs-bad-drug-war-theater.
Student Researcher: Heidi Atter (University of Regina)
Faculty Evaluators: Janelle Blakley and Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)