The news – broadcast on Monday by the BBC – that British and Canadian soldiers have been accused of shipping heroin into Europe, taking advantage of the lack of security checks on military flights returning from the battlefront, does no other than heighten suspicions about the real economic interests hidden behind the war in Afghanistan.
This 'military' trafficking of heroin, between NATO bases in southern Afghanistan (Helmand and Kandahar) and Brize Norton military airport in Oxfordshire, will be dismissed with the usual 'rotten-apple' argument – an isolated case involving only certain individuals.
What is more likely, though, is that this is the tip of the iceberg, or rather, the crumbs from a larger-scale and more structured drug trade that the main operators – the US military and secret services – leave for their allies, evidently not so good at avoiding getting caught.
Just a few months ago it was reported in the German press that one of the main private contractors providing logistics to NATO bases in Afghanistan – Ecolog, suspected of having links with the Albanian mafia – was involved in the trafficking of Afghan heroin to Kosovo and Germany.
Last year there was a great outcry when the New York Times revealed that Walid Karzai, the Afghan president's brother and the main drug trafficker in Kandahar Province, had been on the CIA's payroll for years.
"The American military is not going to interfere with the production of drugs in Afghanistan because it brings them at least 50 billion dollars a year. They are the ones who transport the drugs out of the country on their military planes. It's no mystery", Russian general Mahmut Gareev said to Russia Today in 2009.
Before that, in 2008, on the basis of intelligence that was unrefuted by Moscow's ambassador in Kabul at the time, Zamir Kabulov, the Russian press reported that heroin was being taken out of Afghanistan on military cargo planes to Ganci air base in Kyrgyzstan and Incirlik air base in Turkey.
In the same period, an article appeared in the British newspaper The Guardian referring to growing rumours about the US military in Afghanistan hiding drugs in coffins being airlifted out of the country, filling them with heroin instead of soldiers' bodies.
"Experience in Indochina and Central America – we read in the American Huffington Post, still in 2008 – suggests that the CIA may be more deeply involved in the drug trade than we yet know. In both cases CIA aeroplanes transported heroin for their local allies. The same thing may be happening in Afghanistan. When the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is written, Washington's sordid involvement in the heroin trade will be one of the most shameful chapters".
In 2002 the US journalist Dave Gibson of Newsmax cited an anonymous American intelligence source as commenting "the CIA has always been implicated in worldwide drug trafficking, and in Afghanistan it is simply doing its favourite business as usual, as it did during the Vietnam war".
According to the US historian Alfred McCoy, the leading expert on CIA involvement in drug trafficking in all American war zones over the last fifty years (up to the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan in the 1980s), the primary objective of the American occupation of Afghanistan was to revive opium production, which had been unexpectedly banned by the Mullah Omar the year before in the hope of gaining international prestige.
The facts, and common sense, seem to bear out McCoy's theory. After the invasion of 2001, the resumed production and trade of Afghan opium (and heroin) reached previously unseen heights, breaking the records of the previous Taliban era in just a few years, with US and NATO troops constantly refusing to commit themselves to the struggle against the drug trade and continuing to support local drug barons.
One basic question remains. Why have the US military and intelligence organisations, in theory dedicated to national and international security, been setting their sights for decades on the control of the drug trade? Because of the venality of their corrupt leaders? To guarantee slush funds for covert operations? Or perhaps there is something more strategic and systematic behind it which, in the end, actually regards maintaining security?
The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, has implicitly answered this question, declaring that the vast amount of capital derived from laundering profits from the drug trade is the lifeblood that guarantees the survival of the US and Western economic system in times of crisis.
''Most of the profits from the drug trade, an imposing volume of money, is fed into the legal economic circulation through money laundering'', Maria Costa stated in January 2009. ''This means bringing in investment capital, funds that also ended up in the finance sector, which has been under obvious pressure (because of the global financial crisis – editor's note)''.
''Drug money is currently the only liquid investment capital available'', the UNODC Director continued. ''In 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor. It appears that interbank credits have been financed by money which comes from the drug trade and other illegal activities. It is naturally hard to prove this, but there are indications that a number of banks were rescued by this means''.