US special envoy says reports of Taliban crackdown on poppies are ‘credible’

Helmand province, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters.

Responding to recent reports of a Taliban clampdown on poppy cultivation across the country, US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, said on Wednesday that the reports were true.

In a tweet late Wednesday, West said: “Reports that the Taliban have implemented policies to significantly decrease opium poppy production this year are credible and important. Every country in the region and beyond has a shared interest in an Afghanistan free of drugs.”

On Tuesday, the BBC reported that it carried out an investigation across the country and found there has been a marked decrease in cultivation of poppies this year.

The BBC probe comes after Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada issued a decree in April last year prohibiting the cultivation of poppies, from which opium, the key ingredient for heroin, can be extracted.

BBC reported: “We found a huge fall in poppy growth in major opium-growing provinces, with one expert saying annual cultivation could be 80% down on last year.”

Provinces visited included Nangarhar, Kandahar and Helmand. Studies of satellite images were also done.

The new satellite images studied by Alcis, a UK firm which specializes in satellite analysis, reveal a staggering 99% reduction of poppy growing in Helmand province, one of the main opium cultivation areas of Afghanistan.

“It is likely that cultivation will be less than 20% of what it was in 2022. The scale of the reduction will be unprecedented,” said David Mansfield, a leading expert on Afghanistan’s drugs trade, who is working with Alcis.

“The high resolution imagery of Helmand province shows that poppy cultivation is down to less than 1,000 hectares when it was 129,000 hectares the previous year,” said Mansfield.

According to the new research and analysis by Alcis, the scale of the reduction in opium production across Afghanistan is unprecedented, with cultivation in the south of the country down by at least 80% compared with last year, when the Taliban banned the growing of poppies for opium.

Former UK drug czar and UN official, Mike Trace said: “A sustained reduction in poppy cultivation on this scale will have significant long-term impacts on the patterns of heroin trafficking and organized crime around the world, and also on patterns of consumption and addiction in the UK.”