5 years, 6 months ago
An Afghan boy collects resin from poppies in an opium poppy field in Arghandab district of Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan on May 23, 2008. Afghanistan will ask international donors next month for over US$4 billion to revive its farming sector as it struggles with wheat shortages and skyrocketing food prices. (AP Photo)
Seven months ago and before the Marines deployed to Afghanistan, The Captain’s Journal laid waste to the argument that the Marines should be in the business of destroying poppy crops. Dumb idea, said we, and it runs counter to one of the main ideas behind counterinsurgency.
The Marines have flatly stated that they aren’t after poppy. They’re after Taliban. Rock on. Whether the Marines are just smart or they listened to The Captain’s Journal – which is smart – doesn’t matter. They have performed well in Helmand without destroying the living of the farmers. The war on terror has no business being confused with the war on drugs.
But General McNeill sees things differently and has some of his troops engaged in doing exactly that.
NATO troops in Afghanistan have made significant progress eradicating the country’s poppy fields, an officer for the military alliance said Monday.
Speaking from his headquarters in Kabul, U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill said opium poppy cultivation remains a major threat to Afghanistan, the U.S. Defense Department said in a news release.
“In some portions of the country right now, mostly in the south, the cultivation of poppy is a far greater threat to the Afghan government — to the security and stability here — than the insurgency,” McNeill said.
The Afghan government must head up the elimination of opium poppy cultivation as the country’s economic base, McNeill said, estimating that the Taliban and al-Qaida receive between 20 percent and 40 percent of their money from the drug trade.
The United Nations estimates the terrorist groups receive closer to 60 percent from drugs.
“We are in there fighting insurgents who are as much narco-dealers as they are insurgents,” McNeill said. “In some cases, we are fired upon by people doing narco-business.”
So what? The Captain’s Journal doesn’t get the connection. What if the farmers were growing gizmos that sold for good money down the road in Iran or Turkey or wherever. Suppose that the Taliban forcibly took a cut of the profits. What’s the difference between doing it with gizmos and doing it with poppy? General McNeill could very well have been in the position of saying “We are in there fighting insurgents who are as much gizmo profiteers as they are insurgents.” So? The problem is still with the insurgents, not the gizmos … or the poppy.
We still believe that the best solution to all of this is to capture or kill the insurgents and then let market forces deal with poppy. What’s that we hear? It’s already happening?
In one of the most important developments since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001, opium production has declined in the country. Over 20 of the country’s 34 provinces will be opium-free this year according to a report by the United Nations that has now been corroborated by Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics minister, General Khodaidad.
Among the provinces with remaining opium cultivation, the Taliban-dominated Helmand province ranks high, but even here it is being seen that the humble wheat crop has replaced poppy. Some newspapers that sent reporters to Helmand province, over the course of April and May this year, have independently verified this assertion. A European television program on the subject was among the most-forwarded news items on the Internet last week.
Interestingly, it is not the efforts of the Afghan government alone that have caused the reduction in opium production but something much more mundane, namely the increased price of wheat, that has pushed up production of the grain in many parts of the country. Therein lies a tale of so-called market manipulation that actually goes back to one of the central points about rural poverty alleviation in the region, namely the strength of economics.
The Captain’s Journal is out front again, and we don’t even charge the Department of Defense for this analysis. But our Marine boys will probably keep listening to us.