When President Obama unveiled his Afghanistan strategy last week, he did not dwell on the challenge of getting the country's vast opiate production under control.
The U.S. has spent billions of dollars on counternarcotics programs in Afghanistan, with little success. Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world's supply of heroin, and earnings from the drug trade help fuel the country's insurgency.
Helmand province in southwestern Afghanistan is an opium-rich hub. It produces an estimated 90 percent of Afghanistan's total. The U.S reportedly is sending in 9,000 Marines as part of the new surge to that poppy-rich province to stem the flow of drugs.
But will the troops make a difference in the Taliban-controlled areas like Marja, in Helmand province, where opium proliferates?
Gretchen Peters thinks so. She is the author of Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda. Peters tells NPR's Michele Norris: "It's certainly going to make a difference. Degrading the enemy's ability to fund himself is a key aspect of the strategy."
While opium production is not the only stream of income for the Taliban, it is one of the larger ones. According to the United Nations, the Taliban has earned an estimated annual income of $125 million from the opiate market since 2005.
The new strategy is not eradication but interdiction, Peters says. That's a tall order given that the U.N. estimates that 65 percent of Afghanistan's opium is turned into heroin before it leaves the country's borders, and less than 2 percent of the opium supply is seized before it leaves the country.