We tossed the Taliban and Afghanistan turned into one giant opium poppy field, providing the lion's share of the planet's illegal opium/heroin production. Sixteen years later, Afghanistan's opium industry is still booming. It's the number one source of revenue in the country and forms the criminal nexus that links farmers, insurgents and government authorities.
Next up, Colombia. While we don't pay that region a lot of attention, the United States has, for almost two decades, propped up the Colombian government's fight against FARC guerrillas. The FARC rebels were major players in Colombia's coca/cocaine industry. Lots of money to be had there.
It was thought, by the US and Colombian authorities alike, that last year's peace deal with FARC would spell the end of the cocaine troubles.
Seventeen years and $10 billion after the U.S. government launched the counternarcotics and security package known as Plan Colombia, America’s closest drug-war ally is covered with more than 460,000 acres of coca. Colombian farmers have never grown so much, not even when Pablo Escobar ruled the drug trade.
The peace accord signed last year by the Colombian government and leftist FARC rebels to end their 52-year war committed the guerrillas to quit the narcotics business and help rural families switch to legal crops. But the cash benefits available through the peace deal appear to have created a perverse incentive for farmers to stuff their fields with as many illegal plants as possible.
He and other top officials concede that the end of the war with the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has made the drug fight more difficult, not less. The days when U.S.-funded aircraft could douse coca plantations with herbicide are over. A problem that could once be attacked with blunt military force has morphed into a sociological, state-building challenge.