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Afghanistan: Heroin Production

Processing- Raw opium is bulkier and more difficult to smuggle. Crude laboratories are capable of refining raw opium into morphine base by conducting an acid-base extraction. Morphine base is a brown sticky paste, which gets pressed into bricks and sun dried. Morphine base can be processed into other forms such as heroin. Acetic anhydride is the chemical used to convert morphine into heroin. The chemical reaction is then followed by a degree of purification.

Location of Processing Laboratories- In the past many opium-processing laboratories were located in Pakistan, particularly in the Northwest Frontier Province and Helmand Province. During the Taliban period these laboratories were relocated to Afghanistan to be closer to the source of opium and to take advantage of the safe haven provided by the Taliban.

Afghanistan is now reported to have an opium-processing infrastructure located within the country's territorial delimitations, to convert opium into morphine base, white heroin, or one of several grades of brown heroin. The largest processing laboratories are primarily located in southern Afghanistan. Smaller laboratories are said to be located in other areas such as Nangarhar Province. Recent seizure of three clandestine laboratories and approximately 17 metric tons of morphine base in Baluchistan indicates that coalition efforts may be displacing laboratory activity back to Pakistan.

How Traffickers Obtain Chemical Supplies for Heroin Processing - The 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy report indicates that chemicals are traded in vast quantities from multiple sources. Transshipment or smuggling from the countries into drug producing countries is increasing as the drug producing countries tighten their chemical controls.

Common methods used to obtain chemicals: traffickers extract chemicals from pharmaceutical preparations, chemicals are diverted from domestic chemical production to illicit in-country drug manufacture, chemicals are imported legally into drug producing countries with official import permits and subsequently diverted, chemicals are manufactured in or imported by one country and smuggled into neighboring drug-producing countries, chemicals are mislabeled or re-packaged and sold as non-controlled chemicals, chemicals are chipped to countries where no systems exist for their control.

Afghanistan- The DEA has not identified Afghanistan as a producer of chemicals for the conversion of opium into morphine base. With no domestic chemical industry, the chemicals required for heroin processing must come from abroad. Acetic anhydride is the most commonly used acetylating agent in heroin processing and is reportedly smuggled into Afghanistan from major chemical source countries.

Multilateral initiatives (Operation Cohesion) to track the sources of acetic anhydride shipments in Afghanistan have faced difficulties in intercepting shipments before they reached Afghanistan. Traffickers continue to evade the reach of these initiatives by turning to nonparticipating countries to obtain these key cocaine and heroin chemicals. Many of these countries lack the legal, administrative and law enforcement infrastructure to control the chemicals. Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan are particularly worrisome in this regard.

The principal sources countries responsible for chemical shipments to Afghanistan are believed to be: Pakistan, India, the Central Asian States, China and Europe. However, Afghan drug traffickers hide the sources of their chemicals by re-packaging and false labeling.

While the Afghan government understands the issue, progress in chemical control is dependent upon establishment of specialized police and regulatory agencies. There is currently no regulatory system or legal requirements for tracking, storing, or own in precursor chemicals. Counternarcotics laws from 2005 have required the Ministry of Counternarcotics to develop a modern regulatory system.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:32:34 ZULU