Afghan farmers harvest opium sap from a poppy field in the village of Naqil, in the Tarinkot district of Uruzgan province. AFP / RATEB NOORI
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Lashes swished and whirled through the air in a burst of celebration around a sea of opium poppies, as farmers in a southern Afghan village rejoiced over a bumper harvest with a traditional rope game. Hundreds of farm laborers from across the Pashtun heartland, many of them Taliban, congregated last month in Naqil in Uruzgan province for the most lucrative time of the year – the poppy harvest.Afghanistan, the world's top opium producer, recorded more poppy cultivation in 2014 – at the end of which NATO troops officially ended their combat mission – than in any year since 2002 .The drop, observers say, has only intensified efforts to spike production this year.Fighting usually ebbs during the harvest season, illustrating how the Taliban are deeply entwined in the $3 billion opium trade, believed to be the mainstay of their insurgency against the government.For many, the labor-intensive season, which lasts less than a month, is the only productive period; the rest of the year is a hopeless blur.Many of the laborers in Naqil were Taliban fighters, residents said.
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