Two-tour Afghanistan vet worries about Taliban heroin

Mixed with Chinese fentanyl, Afghan heroin may pour across open southern border

by Daniel Pipes

So many thoughts crash around my mind as chaos ferments across Afghanistan and in Kabul. Will those who worked for us be targeted? Will any of our attempts to produce generational change succeed? How did the US blunder so completely on the withdrawal, ignoring obvious warning signs? Predictably, this mess has devolved stateside into partisan bickering and memes. Bumper sticker “gotchas!” are sometimes worth a chuckle but rarely anything more. 

As vets who I served with call or text, I check the latest article on Kabul, or the Karzai airport, which I know well. On a normal day the airport is hectic by any western standard. Today it provides a glimpse into what air travel (and by extrapolation, civil society) is like absent rules, security, or respect for law. Each person or family for themselves, civility has evaporated, and you can almost smell that unique scent of raw human fear through the pictures. 

So, what to do? For those without service in Afghanistan this is an abstract horror to watch over dinner. For vets and others with personal human connections, its complicated. I include the thousands of NGO’s and contractors who worked there in the mix with Veterans.

My primary interpreters (“Terps,” as they were known) from tours in 2003 and 2008 are now American citizens. I will use their first names only here, as they both have family desperately trying to get out of Afghanistan.

Tem, who was a young teenager from a well-educated Kabul family in 2003, served with us as we created the first Kandak (battalion) of the Afghan National Army. He continued to serve alongside Americans and has since moved here and become a U.S. Citizen. He is a senior engineer working for a large Aeronautical company on the west coast. 

Raz, my trusted interpreter in 2008, also moved to America. He and his wife are both naturalized citizens, and are some of the hardest working people I know. They live in the deep south with their young sons. Raz notes that yes, racism still exists, especially for someone who has a thick accent, but it’s nothing like the tribal absolutism of Afghanistan. He laughingly calls it baby racism, and is genuinely puzzled when he watches people try to nurture division and polarization rather than celebrate being Americans. 

Both of these men and their families are exactly who we want to bring in as citizens. They have chosen to join us, been through a crucible of horrors that most Americans can never imagine, and are productive and capable members of our society. Both of them have family trapped outside the airport in Kabul or in the provinces. I’m doing what I can to help them, but my inability to affect anything directly is infuriating. 

So… what can the average American do? I have one suggestion. It will take me a little while to flesh this out, so bear with me. 

The cash crop of Afghanistan is the poppy. No where on earth does it grow so well. Nothing else produces the return on investment for the subsistence farmer. Poppies produce opium, which is refined to make heroin. The harvest season is April to May, depending on the year. It is immediately followed by the fighting season, since many jihadists flock to South Western Afghanistan to work the harvest. Then they buy their arms and munitions, often in Pakistan, and then get their jihad on until late fall. Very few fight in the winter. 

This season’s poppy harvest just concluded. Smugglers are busy refining and packaging. In the past, the Taliban first forbid poppy production and were harsh in their treatment of those who defied the ban. Then they realized that weaponizing the crop better met their goals.  A quick review of our opiod fatalities shows how successful this tactic remains, even when the Taliban were not officially in charge of Afghanistan. Europe is suffering the same scourge. Western societies gladly take this poison and those who wish to see us fail eagerly provide it. 

I believe that shortly we will be flooded with more heroin than we have ever seen. Our southern border is open. It is a simple matter of capacity; the guards are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of immigrants each day. They have no time to spend on drug cartels.  Fentanyl from China will be mixed into the product in Mexico, increasing the lethality with no way for users to know. 

So…Here’s what you can do. If you have kids, speak with them often about the dangers of opioids. It is clear that first time users are far more susceptible to fentanyl laced products than regular users. The threat of first-time death is real. This is not hyperbolic “reefer madness.” 

If you don’t have kids, mention this to your friends. Opioid abuse and addiction cuts across all of our society. It doesn’t respect age, or wealth, or education.  We have set the stage for heroin to be cheaper than any other recreational drug. Please take a moment to research the risks of heroin and fentanyl. Then have candid conversations with your family and friends. 

I would like nothing better than to be wrong. We have set the stage, and I can see this play unfolding across our nation. Please have that conversation today.

 And… if you are the sort to pray, offer one for the women and children of Afghanistan. 

The author served in the Army and VT National Guard for 31 years. He lives in Fairfield. 

Categories: Commentary

8 replies »

  1. With Afghanistan being by far the largest opium producer of the world, this is a very reasonable concern.

    Rank Country Land Area Devoted To Cultivating Illicit Opium Poppies
    1 Afghanistan 328,000 hectares
    2 Myanmar 37,300 hectares
    3 Mexico 30,600 hectares
    4 Laos 5,700 hectares

  2. One would think that plant-based opioids, the real thing, would have taken a back seat to the potency and availability of fentanyl by now? I would have thought that Afghanistan’s cash crop, and the radicals’ income would have dwindled down, with all that cheap Chinese bathtub fentanyl flowing across the US southern border?

  3. I recently saw a short drama, produced entirely in Phila. The film depicted the substance of heroin abuse in the Kensington section of the city. Heroin is less expensive than opioids in pill form.

  4. Excellent Article Dan! I am Proud to have served with you and share your frustration every day. Thanks for your service!

  5. “…to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Every President swears this oath yet Biden is NOT following our laws regarding immigration and our southern border, allowing in a million illegal aliens in 7 months, and while CPB is busy “processing” these criminals (yes, it’s illegal to enter illegally) estimates say 1/4 of that number slip through and maybe 1/2 of them ferry Fentanyl, Meth, & other hard drugs distributing them nationwide. THIS is an impeachable offense as is defying a supreme court decision to end the rent moratorium also. Just imagine the howls from the “press” had the previous president disregarded court decisions, even lower court ones, and picked & chosen which laws to enforce? The author here is right to educate the young of addiction dangers and choices, also important is supply interdiction & prosecution to allow less of it on the streets and make dealers think twice about making a “quick buck” that can & will kill more of our young.

    • Note that many drug dealers do it out of desperation. Raising slightly the tax on ultra-wealth will help. Lowering taxes on small businesses will help. But the Border issue is serious.

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