A joint U.S. DEA, American Special Forces, and Afghan counternarcotics operation resulted in a surprising seizure of 20 tons of drugs. Authorities say it was the biggest seizure of heroin ever in Afghanistan, maybe even the world.
The operation had been under wraps until a DEA official affirmed the substance of a report. However, they did not clarify why an active superlab takedown was not public.
DEA representative Steven Bell says this drug seizure alone prevented a massive amount of heroin getting to the streets. It also denied the Taliban money that would have funded insurgent activity around the region.
He says a conservative estimate of street value is about $60 million. That estimate is based on the 12.5 tons of morphine base, 6.4 tons of heroin base, 134 kg of opium, 129 kg of crystal heroin and 12 kg of hash taken in the raid on October 17th in the western Afghan province of Farah.
It’s extraordinary that the operation was a success, given that the U.S. has less than 10,000 service members in Afghanistan, and the DEA only has a handful in-country. The downsizing has removed the DEA’s Foreign-Deployed Advisory Support Teams (FAST) in Afghanistan, which targets drug traffickers.
An A-team of Green Beret’s assisted the agents in completing a warrant search in the western Afghanistan province. After a short shootout with insurgents, the teams also found tons of chemicals in what they are calling a “superlab” used to process the poppy into heroin.
The superlab was the first of its kind for DEA agents in Afghanistan. They describe the facility as “complex, sophisticated and well fortified” in their report. Other than drugs and chemicals, they also took nine motorcycles and five AK-47 rifles.
Throughout the 15-year war against insurgents from al-Qaeda, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, the Taliban, and most recently ISIS, Afghanistan has been the world’s number one supplier of heroin. Heroin comes from opium found in poppies. They are grown in fields that are now battlegrounds. In October, a U.N report said Afghanistan’s opium harvest rose 43 percent over the last year’s crop.
The Heroin Epidemic
Most of the Afghan heroin ends up in Europe and the U.S., where addiction and fatal overdoses are now an epidemic. The profits of heroin trafficking fund most of the Taliban’s reservoir of fighters and weapons since collapsing from power after the 9/11 attacks.
In 2005, the DEA responded by forming 12-man FAST units trained by U.S. Special Forces. Seasoned DEA agents make up the FAST units. They initially operated with British Special Air Service to demolish small opium labs in southern Afghanistan.
The October operation targeted the complex Hadimama drug trafficking network. It is led by Abdul Rahman, a Taliban commander, and also Haji Janan, a Taliban facilitator, and narco-trafficker. The DEA said the two were producing heroin to fund their insurgent activities.