At the top edge of a dirt trench, a giant slingshot is surrounded by sunburnt shrubs and six men. One man loads up the contraption with a small plastic-covered bundle. Two men stretch the sling’s band and run backwards down the slope of the trench, and then release it. The video posted on Imgur on March 8 shows their special package being catapulted into the horizon. The men then retrace their steps and prepare for another launch.
Analysts believe the video shows drug smugglers on Afghanistan's border with Iran loading packages of illegal drugs and shooting them across to their associates on the other side.
To the uninitiated, this smuggling method might seem innovative. But experts say Afghan drug traffickers have been using this technique for years.
The creative smuggling contraptions are made of metal, David Mansfield, a socio-economist who specialises in Afghanistan’s drug economy, told VICE World News. “Around 1.5 metres in height, these catapults are inserted into a concrete base and can fire a 1 kg (2.2 pound) package a distance of up to 300 metres (0.18 miles).”
In the video, a man behind the camera seems excited by the action, and is heard saying, in a dialect of Dari, “Bro, let’s take Ibrahim and the other guys with us, and get another load. I’ll pay the money too.”
In the southwestern Nimroz province, a major artery of the country’s drug trafficking trade, smugglers use a variety of methods to get past Iran’s border security, which consists of concrete barriers, barbed wire fencing, deep ditches and formidable border patrols who shoot trespassers on sight.
Ladders, makeshift slingshots and rudimentary catapults made of tire tubes and metal fixtures are common in the border town of Zaranj. Smugglers use them to supply drugs to associates on the opposite side of the border, often from the same family or tribe.
Traffickers take advantage of wind storms known as the “wind of 120 days” in the late spring and summer months to circumvent border surveillance measures.
The phenomenon isn’t unique to Afghanistan. In 2017, United States border agents discovered a mediaeval-style catapult mounted on a border wall with Mexico that was being used to hurl drugs into the U.S.
Border security in Afghanistan started noticing similar catapults after Iran, a major drug market and transit route, reinforced its borders.
“Their use became more commonplace with the erection of the wall along Iran's border with Afghanistan. They serve as a way of reducing both the costs and dangers of smuggling drugs into Iran,” said Mansfield.
Despite a multi-million dollar project spanning more than a decade aimed at strengthening security along its border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iran has yet to successfully curb drugs flowing into its territory.
Afghanistan is the world’s largest illicit opiate supplier. According to the UNODC, the country accounted for an estimated 85 percent of global opium production in 2020. In its 2021 report, the UNODC revealed that income from opiates in Afghanistan amounted to at least $1.8 billion in 2021. The lion’s share of heroin produced from Afghan opium ends up on Europe’s streets.
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