The Taliban’s public relations strategy against the offensives includes trying to convince local residents that Western troops will destroy their poppy crops, and in recent weeks Afghan farmers have started blaming the American and NATO militaries for spreading the disease, United Nations officials say. In many places, the blight has wiped out more than half of individual poppy fields.
The American military — which has decided that widespread eradication can be counterproductive to winning over Afghans — emphatically denies any involvement, and United Nations officials say the disease is naturally occurring.
Besides fueling the propaganda war, the blight might also help the insurgency by giving prices a boost. Reduced production is causing prices for fresh opium to soar as much as 60 percent, after years of declining prices, according to the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa.
While there is no evidence that the disease will return next year, the rising prices may make it harder to persuade farmers to give up the crop, he said.
The price increase is also raising by hundreds of millions of dollars the value of opium stockpiles held by traffickers and insurgents. The opium trade is believed to provide the Taliban with a large portion of their budget.