The harvest exceeded expectation this fall in Afghanistan and is well on its way to the world market. The frightening thing about this bumper crop is that it's opium.

Wait a minute. Aren't we at war with the Taliban and the group they shelter - al-Qaeda? How could production of opium be at a record level if there is a war going on? Don't wars disrupt local economies, especially farming? It just doesn't make sense. But there are many things that don't make sense in this war against the real terrorists of the 911 attacks.

According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007, a document published by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan "cultivated 193,000 hectares of opium poppies, an increase of 17%" over the 2006 crop. For the metrically challenged, myself included, a hectare is 100 ares or 2.471 acres, so that converts to 476,903 acres of poppies.

UNODC estimates that because of favorable weather conditions the nearly half million acres of poppies produced "an extraordinary 8,200 tons of opium," which represents "34% more than in 2006." Afghanistan, according to the survey, now controls "93% of the global opiates market."

We're talking about a lot of money to be made in Afghanistan's opium fields, about $4 billion in US dollars, according to Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of UNODC. In his preface to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007, Costa states that the opium crop "accounts for more than half (53%) of the country's licit GDP."

Is it any surprise where most of the poppies are grown? According to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly website and their report "Afghanistan: Assessing Progress and Key Challenges for the Alliance," most of the opium production is focused in the Southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Day Kundi. These areas are close to the Pakistan border, a strong hold for the Taliban and al Qaeda.

According to Costa, the poppy cultivation is used to fund the insurgency, and under the Taliban "orchards, wheat and vegetable fields [have turned] into poppy fields." Even though the Taliban once considered opium to be against Islam, they have reversed their position and "extract from the drug economy resources for arms, logistics and militia pay."

Can it be that they consider opium, which is usually converted to heroin, as a poison to destroy the infidels in the West? The NATO report states that more opiates from Afghanistan "are being trafficked to North America."

It isn't as if the United States hasn't tried to stop the opium trade from aiding the Taliban. According to David Rohde of the New York Times in his article "Second Record Level for Afghan Opium Crop," the United States has spent $600 million in counter-narcotic efforts in Afghanistan with little if no effect.

Back in the late `60s the US government in a controversial action sprayed Paraquat, an herbicide that is also toxic to humans, on marijuana fields in South America in an attempt to destroy the pot intended to be shipped to this country. Spraying the poppy fields with poison in Afghanistan probably would not work and make the farmers form stronger alliances with the Taliban.

The British with 7,700 troops in Afghanistan are trying to find a solution to the opium problem according to Patrick Wintour, the political editor of The Guardian. Prime Minster Gordon Brown is trying to come up with a "radical scheme" to subsidize the poppy farmers in Afghanistan. Lord Jay, the former Foreign Office permanent secretary, suggested that Afghan opium "be produced legally and used as medical morphine."

Believe it or not "legalizing" the opium crops has been seriously considered by the Senlis Council, an international think tank that focuses on "foreign policy, security, development and counter-narcotics policies and aims to provide innovative analysis and proposals" or so they state on their website. Their "Poppy for Medicine" project would establish Afghanistan as a major provider in the legitimate opium business, much in the same way that Turkey and India have tight government-controlled medicinal opium production.

Who is going to talk nice to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and tell them they are going to lose their cut in the illicit opium trade when and if Afghanistan legalizes the growing of poppies? I just know it won't be the United States.

ABOUT THE WRITER Carol Jensen is a long-time Barstow resident, graduating from Kennedy High School and Barstow College, where she was an English instructor for many years. Much of her time now is spent writing political and social commentary. She may be contacted at cajensen49@msn.com.