U.S. Bridge Boosts Afghan Drug Trade
JUNE 30, 2009
A multi million-dollar bridge financed and constructed by the United States to link two of Central Asia’s poorest countries is mainly used by drug traffickers to transport large loads on trucks.
Designed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the concrete bridge was touted by the U.S. government as a critical transit route for trade and commerce between Afghanistan and the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan. Instead it has literally paved the way for drug traffickers to take big cargos of Afghan heroin and opium to Central Asia and beyond to Russia and Western Europe.
An investigative piece published by a newspaper chain this week reveals the outrageous details of the little-known concrete bridge across the Panj River that cost U.S. taxpayers $37 million. Citing United Nations estimates, the story says that last year an average of 1,320 pounds of heroin moved daily on the northern route. That translates to nearly 6 million doses of pure heroin carried across the northern Afghan border each day.
Before the U.S. built the bridge smugglers struggled greatly to transport drugs by throwing sacks of heroin over the Panj River, wading across when the water level was low and creating pseudo flotillas of car tires, small ferries and footbridges. Thanks to Uncle Sam that primitive method is seldom utilized.
Now trucks just haul the drugs across the two-lane concrete bridge. Smugglers are plenty grateful to Americans who have made their job easier. They assure that high-ranking border officials are corrupt and well aware that large quantities of drugs are being transported across the bridge daily. Others say the border guards are regularly bribed to allow the cargo through.
The U.S. has given tens of millions of dollars to the corrupt Tajik government over the years to supposedly combat drug trafficking and enhance law enforcement efforts although corruption continues to be widespread. Just this month, the U.S. helped break ground on a $2.5 million project to overhaul the country’s border guard training academy on Dushanbe.
Incredibly, no conditions are enforced upon the notoriously corrupt Tajik government on how U.S. tax dollars are spent. Corruption is so rampant that police are regularly seen on the street taking bribes, according to a knowledgeable Western diplomat who says no one bothers demanding a reduction in drugs in exchange for the border security money.
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