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Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia: A Threat Assessment

NCJ Number
Hakan Demirbüken; Hayder Mili; Yekaterina Spassova; Hamid Azizi; Sayed Jalal Pashtoon
Date Published
May 2012
106 pages
This report describes and assesses the threat of the illicit trade of opiates along the northern route from northern Afghanistan to Central Asia up to the borders of the Russian Federation.
The first section of the report addresses the dynamics of trafficking in northern Afghanistan, including the groups involved, the volumes of opiate flows and opiate consumption, and the share that southern Afghanistan production takes in northern route trafficking. Northern Afghanistan receives heroin mostly from the southern and eastern part of the country. The low volume of seizures heading northward indicates weaknesses in law enforcement responsible for these routes. The value of domestic and export sale of illicit opiates in northern Afghanistan was estimated to be close to U.S. $400 million in 2010. The second section of the report examines trafficking dynamics through Central Asia, including the methods involved and the groups managing the trade. The flow of opiates from northern Afghanistan into Central Asia has not lessened, but Central Asian seizure volumes dropped in 2010 despite increased capacity and relatively stable border. Traffickers increasingly use Central Asian railways to transport opiate to the Russian Federation and beyond. The third and final section briefly analyzes the regional capacity to respond to the threat of Afghan opiates. Countering the flow of drugs is complicated by difficulties in coordinating efforts between national agencies within Central Asia and between this region and Afghanistan. This is reflected in the limited intelligence-sharing along supply lines. Despite improvements in customs controls and the large-scale coverage of border guards, the majority of northern-route opiates continue to flow nearly uninterrupted into Tajikistan. Both large, well-organized groups and small entrepreneurs appear to be engaged in trafficking. This report is based on fieldwork conducted in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2011. 26 maps, 28 figures, 27 figures, and appended methodology, seizures data, and trafficking routes