Afghan opium poppy cultivation hits all-time high

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan grew to an all-time high in 2013 despite America spending more than $7 billion to fight it over the past decade, a U.S. report showed on Tuesday.

Federal auditors SIGAR reported that Afghan farmers grew an unprecedented 209,000 hectares of the poppy in 2013, blowing past the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007.

As of June 30, 2014, the report said, the United States had spent approximately $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan.

One factor for the surge was affordable deep-well technology, which over the past decade turned 200,000 hectares of desert in southwestern Afghanistan into arable land much of which is now being used for poppy cultivation.

Nangarhar province in the east, and other provinces, once declared "poppy free," have seen a resurgence in cultivation. Nangarhar had been considered a model for successful counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics efforts and was deemed "poppy free" by the U.N. in 2008. It however saw a fourfold increase in opium poppy cultivation between 2012 and 2013.

An Afghan government official says that Taliban and opium smugglers are fighting for the income of opium in different parts of the country, while cultivation takes place mostly in the south and southwest where insurgents are highly active and the government has little influence.

"The recent fights in Helmand and other provinces of the country are in fact the fight against opium," Afghan Counter Narcotics Minister Mubarez Rashedi told the country's upper house of parliament. "The big opium smugglers alongside the Taliban are fighting against the Afghan government."