Seeds of Terror How Drugs, Thugs, and Crime Are Reshaping the Afghan War

Gretchen Peters




Trade Paperback

352 Pages



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Seeds of Terror is a groundbreaking triumph of reporting, a book that changed U.S. policy toward the Afghan heroin trade and the fight against terror. In it, Gretchen Peters exposes the deepening relationship between the Taliban and drug traffickers, and traces decades of America's failure to disrupt the opium production that helps fund extremism. The Taliban earns as much as half a billion dollars annually from drugs and crime, and Peters argues that disrupting this flow of dirty money will be critical to stabilizing Afghanistan. Based on hundreds of interviews with fighters, smugglers, and government officials, Seeds of Terror is the essential story of the narco-terror nexus behind America's widening war in Afghanistan.


Praise for Seeds of Terror

"As its title suggests, this timely work of reportage documents how opium trafficking has fueled the Taliban's ever-expanding presence in Afghanistan . . . Peters' book casts a spotlight on misguided international development efforts and failed Bush administration policies that facilitated the growth of the Afghan drug trade . . . Peters' analysis of this disastrous single-mindedness is powerful because it is underpinned by the actual testimony of frustrated government officials. She is most provocative, however, when revealing how the lines that separate various political factions—the Taliban, the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the U.S. government itself—are in fact very blurry in present-day Afghanistan. Her detailed take on Wali Karzai is a good case in point. Karzai, she discovers, has not only worked as a U.S. operative, but he also has links to Haji Juma Khan, the notorious Afghan drug kingpin with Taliban and Al Qaeda connections . . . The author's portrait of today's Taliban is equally revelatory. The most recent incarnation of the Taliban comes across as a convoluted, splintered group . . . These revelations about the Taliban and Wali Karzai raise important questions for U.S. military strategists: Will the U.S. be able to distinguish between friend and foe as it fights its war in Afghanistan, and, if it can't, how can it possibly win a ground war against the Taliban? Moreover, Peters' findings intimate an incisive, bitter truth: In present-day Afghanistan, Afghan government officials, CIA clients, warlords, Taliban and Al Qaeda forces form a socio-economic nexus that transgresses the confines of politics and ideology."—Hirsh Sawhney, The Brooklyn Rail

"Seeds of Terror offers layer after layer of fascinating information about the deadly consqeuences of decades of disastrous policy decisions. This is a well-written, well-documented, and exemplary work of journalism."—Lewis Perdue, Barron's

"A stunning, deeply disturbing book . . . A must-read for all Western policymakers and President Obama before they implement any new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan."—Ahmed Rashid, New York Times bestselling author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos

"A vitally important book. Until the United States admits what Peters knows, and changes course, the virulent narco-terrorism spreading across South Asia will cause us to lose not only Afghanistan but Pakistan as well."—Robert Baer, New York Times bestselling author of Sleeping with the Devil and The Devil We Know

"Peters has done a superlative job with Seeds of Terror. It is a primer for the new administration—a blueprint for what must be done in Afghanistan to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat."—Jack Lawn, DEA chief under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush

"The linkage between fighting drugs and fighting terrorism is, with Seeds of Terror, now firmly established. Gretchen Peters, combining personal experience and in-depth research, paints a frightening picture and tells us how to surmount the problem. A critically important book."—Raymond W. Baker, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and author of Capitalism's Achilles Heel

"Detailed and highly readable . . . masterfully traces the enormous success of the illegal heroin trade in Afghanistan."—Frederick P. Hitz, former inspector general of the CIA and author of Why Spy?

"Meticulously researched."—The Sunday Times (London)

"Gretchen Peters's excellent Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al-Qaeda explores how the opium industry fuels the Taliban, feeds systemic corruption in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and increases regional instability . . . Gretchen Peters has penned a disturbing book and plainly states that unless the opium-smuggling industry is put out of business, the nation-building exercise in Afghanistan is destined for failure. We should heed her warnings."—Emran Qureshi, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Required reading for anyone interested in public-policy issues concerning drugs, defense, and diplomacy . . . Buy it."—National Post (Canada)

"If you support this war, the book will disturb and enlighten you. If you are against the war, this book will make you sad. But one sure conclusion is that every time someone is this country sells, buys or uses an opium poppy drug, they are helping to kill our troops."—Jim Danielson, The Journal Star (Lincoln)

"One of the most incisive lines in Gretchen Peters' new book about the Afghan opium trade is buried on page 134: 'The Taliban and their allies may be earning hundreds of millions from the drug trade, but one thing almost everyone interviewed for this project agreed on was that crooked members of Hamid Karzai's administration are earning even more.' Opium may be bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda, as the book's subtitle announces, but the huge participation of Afghan government officials in the production and trafficking of opium is a profoundly inconvenient fact for the United States/NATO mission in the country . . . The most damning parts of the book are Ms. Peters' analysis of the U.S.'s counternarcotics policy itself, which hardly even existed in the first years after the fall of the Taliban regime. Bush's first secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, famously declared that the U.S. military would have no part in fighting the drug trade. That task was handed off to the British. Later, when the U.S. undertook a limited effort at counternarcotics, the teams sent out to confront farmers were not given helicopter rides or military protection; they naturally cancelled the missions, since they involved traveling to some of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan. Ms. Peters describes the perception among many Afghans, and even Western officials, that the U.S. policy was to condone the drug trade . . . What is clear from Ms. Peters' account is that there are people on both sides who have a large stake in making sure the Afghanistan conflict continues. Drug traffickers, be they official or criminal, profit from the instability. One case study in the book clearly points to this conclusion. Arguably the most important drug kingpin of the last two decades, Haji Bashir Noorzai, had been an original founder of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in 1994. At that time, the trafficking routes were littered with roadblocks set up by local warlords who collected 'taxes' on the goods passing through. Mr. Noorzai was growing tired of paying the tax, and according to Ms. Peters, invited the Taliban to eliminate his obstacle. After 2001, Mr. Noorzai played both sides of the conflict by courting American agents with useful intelligence on his former Taliban partners, all the while developing his opium empire. He was recently lured to New York by the promise of more cooperation with Americans, but was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents upon arrival. Ms. Peters makes some excellent policy suggestions at the end of her book. She is sensitive to the situation of small Afghan farmers, who would be crushed by debt to traffickers if their crops were eradicated. Instead, she suggests that counternarcotics policy should be oriented toward netting the big traffickers, including, if necessary, the traffickers who work inside official government positions. She also calls for a concerted diplomatic effort that involves Iran, which also has an interest in curtailing the trade and stabilizing its basket-case neighbor. In addition to these policies, Ms. Peters maintains that any counternarcotics strategy will fail without the accompaniment of classical counterinsurgency tactics: protecting the population and bringing insurgents into the political realm."—Ian Chesley, Far Eastern Economic Review

"Sure to be hotly discussed, this new book explores the often labyrinthine connections between terrorism, the American government, and the heroin trade. Clear and persuasive . . . Peters shows how events that are happening today were set in motion by what took place in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s."—Booklist

"Peters, a former AP and ABC News journalist, presents a meticulous firsthand account of her experiences investigating the role of heroin production and distribution in Afghanistan and the surrounding countries and the reluctance of the U.S. government to address the issue. Covering key players, such as Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and Benazir Bhutto, Peters highlights this lesser-known Afghani product of war and government instability, one that is hard to track and harder to stop. Hers is a tale of how money from opium brought the Taliban back from the brink of extinction and how their joining with al Qaeda has turned Afghanistan into 'the world's first fully fledged narco-terror state.' Her detailed notes and bibliography assist in referencing information . . . Recommended."—Jenny Seftas, Library Journal

"An important examination of 'the nexus of [drug] smugglers and extremists' in the global war against terrorists. Peters builds a solid case [and] has exhaustively framed one of the thorniest problems facing policy makers in this long war."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The New Axis of Evil

Our battle group was a ragtag crew of scruffy Afgan and stony- faced American mercenaries. Our target was opium fields profiting the Taliban.


Read the full excerpt



  • Gretchen Peters discusses Seeds of Terror on Al Jazeera

    Watch this video to see Gretchen Peters talking about her book Seeds of Terror on Al Jazeera English. She discusses the relationship between the drug trade and terrorism in Afghanistan, which produces more than 90 per cent of the world's opium. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that, according to the US military, funnels an estimated 100-500m dollars to the Taliban each year.



  • Gretchen Peters

  • Gretchen Peters has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan for more than a decade, first for the Associated Press and later for ABC News. A Harvard graduate, Peters was nominated for an Emmy for her coverage of the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto and won the SAJA Journalism Award for a Nightline segment on Pervez Musharraf. She lives in the United States with her husband, the Robert Capa Gold Medal-winning photojournalist John Moore, and their two daughters.

  • Gretchen Peters
    Gretchen Peters


    Gretchen Peters

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