Make no mistake about the depth of Afghanistan's problems. The Taliban is staging a frighteningly resilient comeback after being trounced by U.S. forces in 2001. Under our watch, the amount of Afghan land under opium cultivation has grown from 20,000 acres in 2001 to a high of 476,000 last year.
When drugs and insurgencies combine forces, disaster ensues — as the United States knows all too well. Look at the near-civil-war conditions Colombia endured in the 1990s after right-wing paramilitary groups and leftist guerrillas joined the drug trade. Consider the same violent scenario unfolding in Mexico.
Now think of potentially billions of dollars in heroin sales going to the Taliban, which hosted al-Qaida in Afghanistan as it planned the 9/11 attacks.
What's worse is that the United States could have prevented this drugs-and-cash scenario but decided not to. U.N. officials have warned for years that the people running Afghanistan's drug trade were the Northern Alliance, the formerly anti-Taliban forces who helped U.S. forces defeat the Taliban.
Northern Alliance commanders have since disarmed their forces and assumed top positions in President Hamid Karzai's government. But they have not severed links with these illicit smuggling operations, which they've ceded to the Taliban.
Against that backdrop, the New York Times reported this week that Karzai's brother appears to have a shockingly hands-on role in managing multimillion-dollar Afghan heroin shipments — an allegation he denies.
What's undeniable is that large cash infusions from drugs are helping revive the Taliban's recruiting and armament efforts, which they are using to inflict steadily rising casualties on U.S. and allied troops.
America's war effort depends on our ability to cut off the sources of funding behind the Taliban's resurgence. Wiping out Afghanistan's opium is essential. But it must be accompanied by viable programs ensuring that peasant farmers aren't rendered destitute and, therefore, easy recruitment targets for the Taliban.
Harder still is the problem of high-level corruption, which is eroding international support for Karzai. If he is serious about fixing his nation's problems, he must move quickly and decisively to put his own house in order.