Afghanistan's Kandahar Airfield an alleged heroin hotbed

Toor Jan was clearly nervous when he arrived at the guesthouse in Kandahar, Afghanistan. “If my boss found out I did this, he will shoot me,” the young heroin dealer told the Georgia Straight in an interview.

Toor Jan (not his real name) described last March how he sold large amounts of heroin to Afghan translators working at two NATO bases in Kandahar who, in turn, resold the heroin to NATO soldiers.

Toor Jan said he and his partner were selling from 270 grams to one kilogram of heroin weekly to the translators working at Kandahar Airfield—until recently headquarters of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan—and at Kandahar City’s Camp Nathan Smith, former home of the Canadian provincial reconstruction team.

It’s enough to get 2,700 to 10,000 users high. The street value in Vancouver would be $54,000 to $200,000.

It works out to about 14 to 52 kilograms annually, worth up to approximately $10.4 million. (Toor Jan said his boss employs two other teams of dealers who sell similar amounts of heroin to translators at the NATO bases.) In comparison, Canadian police seize only about 70 kilos of heroin in an average year in all of Canada.

Toor Jan said he had heard that some foreign contractors also buy heroin and are involved in smuggling it through Kandahar’s airport but that they “normally deal with other people, not with small guys like us”.

A Kandahar district official who has extensive knowledge of the heroin trade also said some foreign contractors and NATO military personnel are involved in trafficking heroin by plane to North America out of Afghan airports that are under NATO control.

“They have Afghan people who go through the process and purchase the drugs for them. Once it is acquired, they bring it to them, and they smuggle it to North America,” the official said in an interview in a Kandahar guesthouse. “They use the airports.”

(It is Georgia Straight policy to include anonymous sources in stories only in exceptional circumstances, such as when sources’ safety or employment could be jeopardized if their names were revealed. Wherever possible, their identities are confirmed with editors, and—to the extent possible—the Straight corroborates their information with named sources.)

The accounts give a rare glimpse into how some NATO personnel and contractors seem to have gotten ensnared in Afghanistan’s multibillion-dollar narco economy, which supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

Canada and other NATO powers have long been accused of turning a blind eye to a 15-fold increase in Afghan opium production since 2001 (according to UN figures) and cozying up to Afghan warlords and officials reputed to be involved with drugs.

But these new accounts suggest NATO’s presence helps fuel the gigantic Afghan drug trade.

The accounts are reminiscent of the Vietnam War, when U.S. forces befriended opium-dealing warlords in Southeast Asia and many U.S. soldiers became addicted to heroin, with some smuggling it back home.

A Canadian military historian said the notion that NATO soldiers are buying heroin in Afghanistan and smuggling it out is “completely plausible”.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. That’s the way things are there,” Sean Maloney, associate professor of history at the Royal Military College, said by phone from Kingston, Ontario.

“In an environment like that, anything is possible.”

With between 200 and 700 daily flights, the Kandahar Airfield is the world’s busiest single-runway airport. The airfield/NATO base is the size of a small city, home to 30,000 NATO troops and contractors and, until recently, headquarters of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

The last Canadian troops left KAF on December 12 as the military assumes its new role training the Afghan army, mostly in Kabul, near the country’s border with Pakistan.

It’s easy to see how drugs could flood into KAF. A reporter from the Straight experienced only a cursory security check at KAF’s outer gate in a visit last spring. Inside is a large area housing thousands of Afghan and foreign contractors.

A second, more heavily guarded, gate controls entry to the NATO compound, but NATO troops and contractors can easily mingle between the two gates.

An Afghan source who works at KAF said Afghan contractors are widely known to bring in heroin for their own use and for use by NATO troops.

“It is dangerous and stressful work. They are in constant fear. So they use heroin to feel invincible and calm,” he said in an interview in Kandahar City.

He said some Afghan shopkeepers with stalls at the weekly base bazaar also bring in heroin.

“You’re dealing with a frontier town,” Maloney said of KAF. “I call it Deadwood.”

Maloney is an adviser to Canadian Forces chief of the land staff Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin and has travelled to Afghanistan 10 times. The army has commissioned Maloney to write the history of its involvement in Afghanistan.

Maloney stressed that he was speaking as an RMC professor, not for the Canadian military.

He said KAF seems to have become an important new smuggling waypoint in recent years. The new route emerged as Afghan heroin barons sought to seize more profits by circumventing Pakistani middlemen who traditionally processed opium into heroin and smuggled it abroad through the Pakistani port of Karachi.

“They realized that with an airport [in Kandahar], they can cut the Pakistanis out,” he said.

Toor Jan said his Afghan translator clients smuggle heroin into KAF in their shoes. He said he charges them US$20 to $25 for a package of three or four grams of heroin (locals pay the equivalent of only about $6), which they resell to NATO soldiers for $40 to $50. (Each package would have a street value of $600 to $800 in Vancouver.)

“Since the foreigners are not allowed to drink liquor, they use heroin and other drugs,” he said.

Comments (13) Add New Comment
Judy Cross
There are pictures of US troops guarding both poppy fields and packages of raw opium extant since 2009 and the CIA has been dealing opium since the late 1940s. Why wouldn't the grunts try to get a little of the profits for themselves?
Rating: +8
Two statements from the article.......
"The last Canadian troops left KAF on December 12 as the military assumes its new role training the Afghan army, mostly in Kabul, near the country’s border with Pakistan."

"Two former Canadian soldiers said opium use among Afghan police, soldiers, and translators was widespread and sometimes posed operational problems."

.......suggest that the 1,000 or so Canuck troops left to train Afghan police and military are a mere sop to the west's insistence that the war was "won" and will not be effective at all, at least until the locals are weaned from the use of the country's number one (and time-honored) crop.
Rating: -3
One can always tell a slow news day, someone writes that the American army is up to its ears in the dope business. Wow - some big surprise there!
Hear this children. If there aren't buyers there can't be sellers, we keep making the worst people in society the richest and pretend we're oh so shocked. Gold was once the International measure of value, then it became the U.S. dollar - now it's a kilo of cocaine.
Rating: +3
Jaded in Vancouver
This is news ? It's been going on or longer than anyone cares to admit. Smarten up !
Rating: -7
Of course Afghanistan is a Heroin hotbed, it produces 90% of the worlds Heroin.

You think the troops are there "bringing democracy"??
Think again.
Rating: -6
Point of Order
@Teeder...... the subject is HERION not cocaine.... if we want cocaine we will just have to find a reason to invade Peru, Columbia or Bolivia.....wait a minute Chazev!!! .... we can make Chazev the bad guy.... I can taste the high grade crack now. (TIC)
Rating: +5
Perhaps this explains the Defense Minister's erratic use of Air Force jets and helicopters. Does our illustrious leader who lives in the bubble have a clue as to what is going on? Mmmm--thought not!

Strange that the extent of the poppy fields has not diminished.

Have a Happy (sober) New Year.
Rating: -1
Mike Hansen
Heroin hotbed! Remember 'history repeats it's self', especially American history. During WW1 and WW2 the 'spoils of war' were art, gold and other fine jewels but in the last 40 years the 'spoils of war' are cocaine and heroin. Here's a few historical moments, Col. Oliver North and the arms for cocaine deal. The only issue that was addressed at his trial was the guns, not the cocaine. The American citizens never learned where the cocaine or the money generated from it's distribution went! And then the Vietnam war, we all know of the drugs and addicts that returned from their mission.
Drugs have been used to generate $$$ by both 'terrorists' and those that proclaim to be 'fighting terrorism' for many years. How else does 350 metric tons (over 1/3 of the World supply) of cocaine a year get delivered from Columbia past the American 'homeland security' and into the hands of the public? And with the fact that the cultivation and production of heroin has risen from 70% to over 90% of the Worlds production all under the protection of NATO. Could nato be an acronym for "north american terrorist order", using drugs to fuel their tyrannical endeavors? Their history seems to prove it.
Rating: -4
Mike Hansen:
The cocaine, etc, gets by Homeland Security because it's needed to fuel the kickbacks that have come to symbolize the American enterprise system. 1/3 of the global economy is "informal". Why should not America be part of this - especialy as job security is rapidly becoming a joke, both there and here?
Rating: -6
Mike Hansen
Good one RickW, just like I said, "used to generate $$$" for whatever cause they may choose. I know better than most as I lived half of my 57 years in the U.S.. Living and working there one has a better understanding of their political and social endeavors. From the 'inside' if you know what I mean. I moved back to Canada 11 years ago to become politically active as I saw Canada becoming a big part of 'American expansionism'. Our politicians are spending more time "licking foreign govt zipper" than protecting Canada and Canadians. That's more of a 'joke' than so called 'security'!
Rating: -2
Dick Scott
Judy Cross,
Because it is against the law.
Rating: +3
Ryan O'Shannasy
These claims are completely BS. Having worked at KAF over this time period I can tell you that translators are watched more religiously than a grandma watching the view. These guys were constantly searched by us for contraband, weapons, explosives, stolen property. The only drugs we caught them with (which is legal for them) was scummy narshwar- which you and I would sooner rub dog crap on our gums than put this in our mouths.
Anonymous = no accountability for whats said = say whatever you damn well feel like cause no one can prove otherwise.
I'm embarrassed educated Canadians buy into this stuff.
Again, translators selling drugs at Camp Nathan Smith? They're searched coming onto base, leaving base & everyone watches them on base. Either they have cloaking generators or half of the Canadian forces turn a blind eye to drug selling right in-front of them.
Rating: -3
Ramesh Raghwan
Its totally disgusting..If the Base Army will do this then what can we expect from others... Army should want to more serious for this matter...
Rating: +7
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