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Allegations of NATO troops smuggling Afghan heroin have surfaced before. Last year, the Sunday Times in London reported that British authorities were investigating whether British soldiers in Helmand province and Canadian soldiers at KAF were smuggling heroin.
An Afghan drug dealer told the Times: “Most of our other customers, apart from drug lords in foreign countries, are the military.…So most of the foreigners who do these deals are the military.
“As I have heard, they are carrying these drugs in the military airlines.”
Canadian defence officials said at the time that they had no evidence of smuggling by Canadian troops.
A retired Canadian military police captain told the Straight in a phone interview that it is common knowledge that opium is available at KAF.
“Oh, yeah, that’s open source. It’s endemic across the country,” said Wayne Boone, now vice president of the Canadian Intelligence and Military Police Association and assistant professor of international affairs at Ottawa’s Carleton University, in a phone interview. “You’ve got Afghan nationals coming in and out [of KAF] with impunity and background checks focusing only on their loyalty. It does stand to reason that opium products may be brought in.”
Boone also said Canadian soldiers flying home from Afghanistan aren’t normally subject to thorough searches. “It’s not typical to search every bag unless there’s cause.”
The Afghan opium business also seems to have gotten an unexpected boost from Canada’s much-lauded $50-million project to rebuild Kandahar’s irrigation network.
Maloney said the signature project has helped opium producers irrigate their poppies. He said he warned Canadian officials about the risk at a meeting in Kandahar in 2005. He was told not to worry because Afghan farmers were to be weaned off opium with alternative-crop programs. But those programs didn’t work, he said.
Two former Canadian soldiers said opium use among Afghan police, soldiers, and translators was widespread and sometimes posed operational problems.
“We couldn’t take Afghans out [on patrol] because they were all rolling around in a ditch, too high to cock their weapons,” said Matthew Young, who served in Afghanistan in 2006.
“We tended not to rely on Afghans for our own security,” he said by phone from Edmonton, where he lives.
Grant Custer, a Canadian artillery captain who served in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009, said some Canadian military units in Kandahar also experienced problems with Afghan translators who used opium. “We were told to watch out for that, especially if we took them with us. They just couldn’t do their job properly,” he said by phone from Hamilton, Ontario.
A Canadian military spokesman said he has no evidence that Canadian soldiers or Afghan translators smuggled heroin out of Kandahar.
“If something was wrong with Canadian employees, action would have been taken,” Lt.-Col. Chris Lemay said by phone from Ottawa.
Lemay also said NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), not Canada, was responsible for security at KAF. Asked about drug use by Afghan soldiers, he said: “Any allegations that they would have been under the influence and difficult to work with—sure, this is Afghanistan.”
He also acknowledged that opium producers could have benefited from the Canadian irrigation project but said that it was still worthwhile because it helped Afghan farmers.
An ISAF official in Kandahar emailed the Straight a statement saying ISAF “supports a drug-free work environment and the vast majority of ISAF personnel live up to these standards”.
The Afghan source working at KAF said base security hasn’t changed in the eight months since the Straight first asked Canadian and NATO officials about the smuggling.
With additional reporting by Bilbo Poynter.