Afghanistan Drug Control:

Strategy Evolving and Progress Reported, but Interim Performance Targets and Evaluation of Justice Reform Efforts Needed

GAO-10-291: Published: Mar 9, 2010. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 2010.

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Charles M. Johnson, Jr
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The illicit drug trade remains a challenge to the overall U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. Afghanistan produces over 90 percent of the world's opium, which competes with the country's licit agriculture industry, provides funds to insurgents, and fuels corruption in Afghanistan. Since 2005, the United States has allotted over $2 billion to stem the production, consumption, and trafficking of illicit drugs while building the Afghan government's capacity to conduct counternarcotics activities on its own. In this report, GAO (1) examines how the U.S. counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan has changed; (2) assesses progress made and challenges faced within the elimination/eradication, interdiction, justice reform, public information, and drug demand reduction program areas; and (3) assesses U.S. agencies' monitoring and evaluation efforts. To address these objectives, GAO obtained pertinent program documents and interviewed relevant U.S. and Afghan officials. GAO has prepared this report under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative.

The U.S. counternarcotics strategy has changed emphasis across program areas over time to align with the overarching counterinsurgency campaign. The 2005 U.S. counternarcotics strategy focused on five program areas: elimination/eradication, interdiction, justice reform, public information, and alternative livelihoods. Since then, U.S. Department of Defense (Defense) policy and rules of engagement were changed to allow greater military involvement in Afghanistan counternarcotics efforts due to the ties between traffickers and insurgents. Furthermore, the U.S. counternarcotics strategy has shifted to align more closely with counterinsurgency efforts by de-emphasizing eradication, focusing more on interdiction efforts, and increasing agricultural assistance. The United States' use of total poppy cultivation as a primary measure of overall counternarcotics success has limitations in that it does not capture all aspects of U.S. counternarcotics efforts. In recognition of this, the administration is attempting to develop measures that better capture overall counternarcotics success. U.S. agencies have reported progress within counternarcotics program areas, but GAO was unable to fully assess the extent of progress due to a lack of performance measures and interim performance targets to measure Afghan capacity, which are a best practice for performance management. For example, although Defense is training Afghan pilots to fly interdiction missions on their own, this program lacks interim performance targets to judge incremental progress. Furthermore, a lack of security, political will, and Afghan government capacity have challenged some counternarcotics efforts. For example, eradication and public information efforts have been constrained by poor security, particularly in insurgency-dominated provinces. In addition, other challenges affect specific program areas. For example, drug abuse and addiction are prevalent among the Afghan National Police. Monitoring and evaluation are key components of effective program management. Monitoring is essential to ensuring that programs are implemented as intended, and routine evaluation helps program managers make judgments, improve effectiveness, and inform decisions about current and future programming. U.S. agencies in all counternarcotics areas have monitored program progress through direct U.S. agency oversight, contractor reporting, and/or third-party verification. For example, eradication figures were routinely reported by U.S. Department of State (State) officials and contractors, and verified by United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime monitors. U.S. agencies also conducted and documented program evaluations to improve effectiveness in the elimination/eradication, interdiction, and public information program areas. However, State has not formally documented evaluations of its justice reform program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Defense concurred with our recommendation and responded in March 2011 by developing a new quality metrics/measurement program to evaluate effectiveness of its training of Afghan counternarcotics forces. Specifically, this program required and subsequently established annual targets to measure progress in various performance categories for each of the Afghan counternarcotics forces that Defense trains. For example, the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan is evaluated in such categories as operations, facilities, intelligence, readiness, and interdiction, and each of these categories contains yearly projected rating targets out to 2017.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. government's ability to assess progress toward counternarcotics goals, the Secretary of Defense should develop performance targets to measure interim results of efforts to train the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA).

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State concurred with our recommendation and noted that it was in the process of developing an assessment tool for its counternarcotics public information campaign. In responding to the recommendation, State developed a performance management plan for its Afghanistan Counternarcotics Public Information (CNPI) program. The plan was finalized in January 2013. The CNPI performance management plan defines output, outcome, and impact indicators to determine the CNPI program's performance. The plan also outlines performance targets for some output indicators that enable program officers to monitor CNPI performance against stated targets over the course of the contract and provides the opportunity to course-correct program implementation if it appears that the program will not reach its stated targets.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. government's ability to assess progress toward counternarcotics goals, the Secretary of State should develop performance measures and interim targets to assess Afghan capacity to independently conduct public information activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In responding to the recommendation, DOJ determined that the existing metrics of low-, mid-, and high-level traffickers were not useful and that new metrics would be required. DOJ has taken several steps to begin developing new metrics. First, DOJ added and filled a support staff position at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to monitor justice reform activities in Afghanistan. Second, DOJ has tasked the person in this position with monitoring, reporting on, and analyzing justice reform activities, in part through a new weekly internal progress report. Third, based on the insights gained through his analysis, DOJ has tasked this person to develop a new set of metrics that will better assess justice reform progress. One of the metrics that has grown out of this effort is convictions of "strategic or influential drug traffickers" which would take account of the seriousness of the trafficker's conduct (in terms of quantity and quality), the impact of the conduct, and the degree of control and influence wielded by the drug trafficker being prosecuted. According to DOJ, this metric has been added to a draft update to the existing State-DOJ Interagency Agreement, which establishes the funding, work plan, agency responsibilities, and performance metrics for the Afghan Justice Reform program.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. government's ability to assess progress toward counternarcotics goals, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Administrator of DEA and the Attorney General, should establish clear definitions for low-, mid-, and high-level traffickers that would improve the ability of the U.S. and Afghan governments to track the level of drug traffickers arrested and convicted.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State concurred with our recommendation. State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) included an evaluation of its justice reform program as part of the Afghanistan rule of law program in its FY2012-FY2014 Bureau Evaluation Plan. INL focused the evaluation on its Corrections System Support Program (CSSP) which, according to INL, represents the major component of its justice reform program in terms of resources, and therefore benefited the most from an evaluation. (The CSSP is a specific part of State's overall justice reform program that focuses on building the capacity of Afghanistan's prison system through training, advising, and infrastructure projects such as security upgrades and sanitary improvements.) The evaluation began on September 8, 2014, and was published on August 4, 2015.

    Recommendation: To improve the U.S. government's ability to assess progress toward counternarcotics goals, the Secretary of State should perform an evaluation of the justice reform program.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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