David R. Henderson  

How U.S. Drug Enforcement in Afghanistan Helped the Taliban

Amazing Dan Klein... Some Wisdom of Don Corleone...
Taken together, the results imply that anti-opium efforts substantially increased the opiate-industry resources flowing to the Taliban. For each kilogram of opium removed from the market, the estimates imply that only one-sixth of a kilogram would have come from Taliban-heavy areas. Demand is sufficiently inelastic that, absent supply responses, the value of remaining opium would rise substantially, increasing the net income of farmers in Taliban-heavy areas by around $120. Supply responded quickly, and did so largely in Taliban-heavy districts. All told, the opium-source income of farmers in these districts rose from $240 million in 2004 to $580 million in 2010.
This is from "Evaluating Economic Warfare: Lessons from Efforts to Suppress the Afghan Opium Trade." by Jeffrey Clemens of UC San Diego.

Check his Figure 1 on page 4. I didn't know these facts but they make sense. The U.S. military was less able to suppress production in Taliban-friendly areas than in areas that the U.S. military controlled.

When I asked General Stanley McChrystal, at a Hoover event, why he had wanted to suppress one of the few parts of the Afghan economy that seemed to thrive, I had in mind the problem that the U.S. government would hurt its relations with the people in the area it controlled. I didn't think of what Clemens found. McChrystal gave a flippant answer about how he ought to have known he would get a question like this given that he was speaking in California.

HT to Ryan Sullivan.

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CATEGORIES: Regulation

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Ken B writes:

That might have been an opportunity to deploy that new weapon in your armory, and apologize for the intelligence of your question.

Terry Glavin, a left wing Canadian journalist and passionate supporter of the efforts in Afghanistan against the taliban, has made this very point before. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we drag the 'war on drugs' into the war on the taliban.

The same occurs in S. America when various local governments enact the U.S. policy of destroying coca crops. It just shifts production to areas that aren't impacted by these policies.

N. writes:

This was such an intuitive, obvious and predictable outcome, I cannot comprehend why the policy of poppy destruction was enacted, or at least why it wasn't seriously questioned. Not only does it help fund the Taliban but it destroys the livelihood of the natives... making them much more sympathetic to anti-American causes.

Why couldn't we instead become their biggest customer, paying them more than the Taliban could afford to and then use the poppies for pharmaceuticals or bagel toppings or whatever, injecting all kinds of money into the economy. Sure the Taliban might then come to rob the locals, but who would these folks come to for help?

I thought the idea was to isolate the Taliban, engage the locals and protect the population. Instead, we alienated the locals and sent them right into the arms Taliban and spent a tremendous amount for the privilege. Even if you consider the decision to go to war as a fait acompli, it didn't have to go this way!

Ken B writes:

There's an anlogy to current US immigration law too. The hoops and burdens for legal workers and immigrants are so high that you create a strong incentive for illegals. Then with an amnesty to follow you end up rejecting only those you probably most wanted: the ones who tried to follow the law but had other choices when you raised the cost so high.

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