In a report just issued (November 2017) by the United Nations Office on Drug Control, we learn that Afghanistan had a huge, bumper crop of opium in 2017. Its biggest ever. And if you read the details of the methods used to estimate the amount of opium produced, you will see that there is a large amount of guesswork, and the amount available for overseas distribution might be considerably greater than estimated.
Pages 7, 8
Area under opium poppy cultivation increased by 63% since 2016, reaching a new record high…
Opium poppy cultivation expanded to new regions and intensified where there was cultivation before…
Total eradication of opium poppy increased by 395 hectares but remained very low…
Potential opium yield and production increased in 2017 Potential opium production was estimated at 9,000 tons in 2017, an increase of 87% from its 2016 level (4,800 tons). The increase in production is mainly a result of an increase in area under opium poppy cultivation, while an increase in opium yield per hectare also contributed. In 2017, the average opium yield amounted to 27.3 kilograms per hectare, which was 15% higher than in 2016…”
A graph of the area in hectares used to grow opium poppies in Afghanistan from 1994-present is on page 15 of the report. As I noted previously, the two periods when there was a heavy US CIA/military presence in Afghanistan have corresponded to increased opium production.
Today, Nov 20, it was announced at a press conference that US and Afghan military forces have launched attacks on Taliban opium factories. One might ask if this announcement is in response to the UN report. One might also ponder the fact that opium was harvested in the spring–so the “factories” that turn opium into morphine and heroin, the ones we reported attacking– may have been mothballed till next spring, anyway.
UPDATE: December 14, 2017: Additional reports of bombing of Taliban drug factories by US airpower.