Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Penetrating Every Stage of Afghan Opium Chain, Taliban Become a Cartel

By AZAM AHMED, NYT
FEB. 16, 2016

ZARANJ, Afghanistan — Shortly after sunrise, an Afghan special operations helicopter descended on two vehicles racing through the empty deserts of southern Afghanistan, traversing what has become a superhighway for smugglers and insurgents.

Intelligence showed that the men were transporting a huge cache of drugs and weapons from Helmand Province to Nimruz Province, a hub for all things illegal and a way station on the global opium trail. Hovering above, the troops fired tracer rounds into the sandy earth beside the vehicles, which skidded to a stop.

It was an impressive take for the Afghan forces that day, July 12, 2014. They seized nearly a metric ton of opium in various phases of processing, three AK-47 assault rifles, an automatic handgun, a PKM machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, four two-way radios and two satellite phones.

But the biggest coup was neither the drugs nor the weapons. It was a passenger who gave his name as Muhammad Eshaq, a 40-year-old carpet seller from Nimruz. After a later inquiry by international officials, the police discovered that Mr. Eshaq was actually Mullah Abdul Rashid Baluch, the Taliban shadow governor of Nimruz Province: a man with blood on his hands and with direct links to the top Taliban leaders in Pakistan.

(More here.)

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