The Taliban has claimed control of Helmand. And opium always provided a significant part of the Taliban’s income. From the Mail & Guardian Online, with thanks to DFS:
Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, where about 7 000 British troops are based, is on the verge of becoming the world’s biggest drugs supplier, cultivating more opium than entire countries such as Burma, Morocco or even Colombia, the United Nations warned on Tuesday.
The region was largely responsible for a huge increase last year in Afghanistan’s opium-poppy harvest, the origin of most of the heroin on the streets of Britain and mainland Europe. And Helmand’s poppy harvest is expected to increase again this year, according to the latest annual report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
“Curing Helmand of its drug and insurgency cancer will rid the world of the most dangerous source of its most dangerous narcotic and go a long way to bring security to the region,” said Antonio Maria Costa, the UN agency’s executive director.
The report will not be welcome reading for the British government. Five years ago, Tony Blair said Britain would take responsibility for overseeing Afghanistan’s anti-narcotics programme. Last year, Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, said an increase in the opium harvest planted before British troops arrived in Helmand was one thing; a further rise this year — now predicted by UN and British officials — would be quite another.
“Drugs and the insurgency are intrinsically linked,” a British official admitted on Tuesday. British military commanders, meanwhile, warn that attempts to eradicate the poppy crop without providing alternative incomes will simply increase hostility to foreign troops and increase support for the Taliban.
A United States proposal to spray the poppy crop was vetoed by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.