The Opium Runner

 

The Opium Runner 

2/10/09

At night; a derelict industrial area. MOSCOW. 1995.

Four tough looking large men stood facing each other. One clutched a bulging battered briefcase he stares at another man holding a suitcase. The other two men watch, each holds a machine pistol at their waists, angled down 45 degrees.

The Suitcase is laid on the dirt and clicked open, it bulges with white powder wrapped in small clean polythene bags. The other man shoves forward the brief case, the other guy grabs it quickly, opens it and tugs out a fist full of new $100 notes. A piece of paper drifts to the dirt, the other man bends down, picks it up and hands it to the other guy. It reads: $5,000,000.

The men glared at each other in silence, slowly and deliberately walk backward to two Mercedes limousines and tear away.

There are between 1.5 – 8 million uses in Russia. Over 200 perish daily.

5 am KANDAHAR Afghanistan 6 months earlier.

Sean McDonald searches for a position 300 yards above the half-mile wide split in the mountain range. A ragged geological fault shortcut used by the Afghans for centuries. It cut days trekking over the mountains to Kabul. Perfect for an ambush.

It was sunrise as 18-year old villager Abdullah strapped the old leather back-pack containing 20 kilos of pure dry opium to his back. He will get $6,000 at the Kabul Bazaar, no questions asked, enough cash to feed his mother, 3 brothers and 2 sisters for a long time. The round trip will take him 24 hours. He hugged Rima his mother then stared at a mound of dirt with a leaning twig bound cross

Since last price year’s hike, bandits ambush anyone or a group hauling opium to the bazaar. Until this year lone-people were not considered worth the effort. But that was last year. His father and four other men were killed the same day one year ago.

He turned gazing again at the freshly mounded grave alongside the dilapidated brick farm house. Shielding his eyes, he watched the distant sun cresting the outlined mountains.  He squared his shoulders and set off toward the mountains at a fast pace. Strapped on his back is an old bulging leather bag.

On the dirt floor of the house, Rima pulls the covers over the top of her two young sons and her two daughters. Rima squats back on her heals, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Meanwhile tanned 35-year-old veteran sniper SAS Sergeant Sean McDonald resembles an ‘Afghani’. Long matted hair, thick beard he crouches concealed in a position 300 yards above the quarter-mile wide ragged geological gap in the mountains.

Mac slowly scans across the ¼ mile gap with his scope stopping at a spot 30 feet above the ground. After re-focusing, he notes the distance through the lens and closes the telescope, then slots it in his worn sand colored tunic, and zips up the pocket.

He lifts the well-used spotless M107 sniper’s rifle to his right shoulder, adjusts the two spiked feet firming each into his small sandbag resting on the flat rock surface. In the hands of a marksman, it never misses. Mac used all his British army skills, and guessed a sniper worth his salt – and Afghans are good will be where he focused his sights. He’d taken into account angle of sunlight between 7 and 8 am. He will wait first: for a reflection flash off any sniper’s rifle, the sound and echo point. After peering through the small rear sight, he squints through the scope sight, adjusts two scope rings, lowers his weapon, notes the time and relaxes. His scratched watch reads – 7.10.

1st Afghan track

Unseen by Mac on a dirt track mile away a black 4-wheel dive hammers along a narrow un-even road toward the mountains.

2nd Afghan track

The battered British Army Land Rover hammers along a stony track.

3rd Afghan track.

Abdullah stops, sweat oozing from his pores, dust and dirt sticks to his skin. Squinting at the strong sun now higher in the sky and hot, he swigs back two mouthfuls of warm water from a goat skin, chews on a dough-like substance, wipes his brow on his tatty shirt sleeve, inhales. Then sets off again at the same fast pace.

A poppy field 30 miles away.

Tall poppies blanket a large open field. The British Army Land Rover stops. Five soldiers scramble from the rear, each grabs a flame thrower and ignites them. They dash to different spots and start burning the poppies. The rising smoke can be seen for miles as it drifts toward the mountains.

Mac smiles notes the time again, 7.56am.

On the 1st track the black 4-wheel dive continues toward the mountains. In the rear four Afghanis sway as the vehicle swerves and dips. Each clutches a battered machine-gun. At their feet are boxes of ammunition, rockets and launchers.

Abdullah stares at the gap in the mountains, glances at the sun, streaked with fading smoke. He tightens the back pack straps, and hugging the shadows on the left rock face, noting anything that can trip him over. He eases forward in what little shadow existed, and it wasn’t much.

Mac glances at his watch it reads 8.12, he tugs himself into a firing position, suddenly he sees something move in the shadows, then hurriedly stop, it’s Abdullah. Macs lifts his rifle, aims at the spot he picked across the gap. After releasing the safety catch he rests his finger on the trigger then closes his left eye-lid.

From somewhere a shot rings out, echoes through the gap. Abdullah hits the ground, motionless, his deep breathing lifts the dirt, he’s sweating, but perfectly still – a survival reaction, done before he had time to collect his thought.

Mac sees a reflection, exactly where he’s focused, positive the sound came from the same spot. He gently squeezes the trigger, a blood stained M79 rifle tumbles down to the dirt. Mac stares looking for Abdullah. There’s no sign of the boy.

Hiding somewhere down there are more Taliban – accomplices of the sniper, waiting to snatch the opium and anything useful of Abdullah’s. But all was still, only an Eagle soared high above on thermals.

Mac saw two figures move from the shadows. Two rapid shots echoed across the fault. Two figures slumped in the dirt. Mac quickly rose, slung the rifle across his shoulders and coursed down to ground level. Where his smiling, friendly demeanour, and a handful of used US $100 dollar bills did not budge Abdullah.

Mac eased toward him behind a jagged split on the mountain side, unknown if he was armed, in fluid Afghani he calls out, “It’s okay son. I won’t hurt you. I’m a soldier, here to help you, as he lifts the bag. “How much? Mac asks guessing the weight. Abdullah stares at him, wondering how and why this British soldier knows so much. Abdullah’s scared and silent.

“About twenty kilos.” Mac says nodding, as he tugs a hessian bag from a pocket and unfolds it. “Seven thousand, that’s more than the bazaar price.”

Slowly he counts off the sum and hands it to Abdullah, who grabs it so furiously he nearly tares the notes in half. He takes one one-hundred-dollar note, holds it to the sun, squinting it’s for real. Still unsure he rolls it between his fingers for ‘feel.’

Mac chuckles. “It’s okay son it’s real, just well used”.

Satisfied Abdullah grabbed the cash, and dropped the opium on the ground. Mac extended his hand; slowly Abdullah shook it and smiled meekly.

Here, have a drink.” Mac hands him a goat-stomach water carrier. After gulping most of it he hands it back to Mac. “Keep it son, I can find more.”

Mac stares around the canyon. We’d best be on our separate ways son, dangerous place out here. Keep to the shadows. There’s more about for sure.”

Suddenly machine-gun fire racks the area.

Mac and Abdullah crumple in the dirt out of sight. Mac loads his rifle, and carefully peers across the gap. “Got ya,” he whispered as reflections of rifle caught his eye. In rapid succession he fired two shots. “Never did learn to blacken their rifles.

In Europe 90 tons annually is consumed – it’s increasing.

The USA and Canada consume 21 tons and its increasing.

Afghanistan produces 6,000 tons of Opium annually.

At the gate in Kandahar, one gram costs $3.

On the streets of Milan, London, Moscow, that gram sells for $300 plus

A kilo sells for between, $68,000 – $75,000.

After it’s cut and sold again that kilo is over $2,000,000.

Abdullah’s 20 kilos are worth $400,000,000

 

Stats at Feb 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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