Soldiers of Abu Hilalain: An Investigation into Captagon Trafficking by Syrian War Militias and What It Means for U.S.
Will Nichols and Max Kravitz
War is expensive and the need to raise money for weapons and materiel often turns militias to the tactics of into organized criminals. The transformation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels into a major cocaine cartel as well as the Islamist Taliban insurgents of Afghanistan taxing and protecting opium and heroin smuggling routes are but two famous examples. Criminal groups also often capitalize on the breakdown of rule of law in war zones and failing states to proliferate and expand their own illegal profits and activities. As globalization continues to erode sovereign state boundaries and internationalize non-state actors and criminal outfits, the nexus between insurgent warfare and transnational organized crime becomes all the more important to understand.
Nordstrom’s work also illustrates the importance of smaller, less acknowledged goods in the smuggling economy. Cigarettes and beer are important staples in the smuggling economy she finds herself enmeshed in, as they both carry an intrinsic value that hard currency lacks, making them part of the backbone of the illicit economy. Frank Madsen highlights cigarettes in his work Transnational Organized Crime as well, concurrently discussing that such items function as currency in an environment where no government can guarantee a financial system. Items like cigarettes may not be as sexy as cocaine or heroin, but the demand for them rarely diminishes, they’re easy to smuggle, and are a consistent source of revenue for those looking to maintain a steady profit stream. Similarly, demand for Captagon is significant and a production operation that connects production to the Gulf would veritably “print” money.