"Poppy Fields Are Now a Front Line in Afghan Wardidja notice anything missing?
It is a measure of this country’s virulent opium trade, which has helped revive the Taliban while corroding the credibility of the Afghan government, that American officials hope that Afghanistan’s drug problem will someday be only as bad as that of Colombia.
While the Latin American nation remains the world’s cocaine capital and is still plagued by drug-related violence, American officials argue that decades of American counternarcotics efforts there have at least helped stabilize the country.
To fight a Taliban insurgency flush with drug money for recruits and weapons, the Bush administration recognizes that it must also combat the drug trafficking it had largely ignored for years. But plans to clear poppy fields and pursue major drug figures have been frustrated by corruption in the Afghan government, and derided by critics as belated half-measures or missteps not likely to have much impact.
Poppy growing is endemic in the countryside, and Afghanistan now produces 92 percent of the world’s opium. But until recently, American officials acknowledge, fighting drugs was considered a distraction from fighting terrorists.
The State Department and Pentagon repeatedly clashed over drug policy, according to current and former officials who were interviewed. Pentagon leaders refused to bomb drug laboratories and often balked at helping other agencies and the Afghan government destroy poppy fields, disrupt opium shipments or capture major traffickers, the officials say.
Not so long ago, Afghanistan was trumpeted as a success, a country freed from tyranny and Al Qaeda. But as the Taliban’s grip continues to tighten, threatening Afghanistan’s future and the fight against terrorism, Americans and Afghans are increasingly asking what went wrong. To that, some American officials say that failing to disrupt the drug trade was a critical strategic mistake.
But while new Afghan drug prosecutors are charging hundreds of messengers and truck drivers with drug offenses, major dealers, often with ties both to government officials and the Taliban, operate virtually at will.
Failing to charge major traffickers feeds Afghans’ skepticism about American intentions, said counternarcotics officials, lawmakers and experts on Afghanistan.
“To Afghans, our counternarcotics policy looks like a policy of rewarding rich traffickers and punishing poor farmers,” Barnett R. Rubin, a New York University professor and an expert on Afghanistan, told a Senate panel in March. (heh!)
Farmers growing poppies in Taliban-controlled areas pay a tax to the insurgents, who then hire “day fighters.” For their part, drug traffickers pay the Taliban for security. Smugglers who take opium and heroin out of Afghanistan bring weapons and bombs back for the insurgents, officials say. (heh!)
The Bush administration was reluctant to take on the drug issue even from the start of the war. Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, military and intelligence analysts turned over to the Pentagon a list of targets linked to Al Qaeda — and its Taliban hosts — inside Afghanistan. It included military targets, as well as drug labs and warehouses, where the Taliban was believed to have stockpiled opium after banning poppy cultivation in 2001.
Destroying the government’s principal source of revenue would help put the Taliban out of business, the analysts figured.
But when the air campaign over Afghanistan began, top military officials removed all drug-related targets, according to one analyst who attended meetings where the bombing raids were discussed. (heh!)
Mr. Rumsfeld opposed any military involvement in counternarcotics operations, several American officials say. Aside from concerns about stirring up resentment by peasants or alienating Afghan officials, the Pentagon viewed fighting drugs as a dangerous diversion from fighting terrorism.
The Pentagon’s own counternarcotics office, though, was eager to take on the fight. Soon after the American-led invasion, Mr. Hollis, the former counternarcotics official, raised the matter with top military officials.
“The commanders said we don’t do drugs, we’re just killing terrorists,” Mr. Hollis recalled. “That showed a lack of understanding of the threat. I cared about going after the drug routes. If you could smuggle drugs, you could smuggle weapons and terrorists. It concerned me that if we didn’t go after the drug trade then, we would lose a golden opportunity.”
Later, when Mr. Hollis asked the Defense Intelligence Agency to assess the link between drugs and the Taliban, the agency refused to do so, he said. It was not until the fall of 2004, when both the United Nations and the C.I.A. issued stunning estimates of Afghan opium cultivation, that the White House expressed alarm about the issue.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
failing to disrupt the drug trade
* Risen @ NYT:
Posted by lukery at 5/19/2007 04:01:00 PM