Friday, May 25, 2007

Something with poison in it, I think.... Poppies...

The Afghan government has tumbled to the notion that allowing billions of narco-dollars to flood into a restive region isn't the best way to counter the insurgency there:

The Afghan government has demanded that British troops destroy the opium trade in the country after a record poppy harvest that threatens to flood Europe with cheap, high-purity heroin.

Officials are so concerned that they want the British to abandon their policy of non-intervention in the drugs war.

Counter-narcotics officials argue that the insurgency faced by the British in southern Afghanistan and the trade that centres on the province of Helmand are now indistinguishable and must be dealt with as such.

Billions? Not an exaggeration. In 2004, Afghanistan was estimated to produce 4,200 tons of opium with a value of US$600 million. And now:

Figures for this year's opium harvest show that Helmand is producing more than half of the world's heroin, even with British troops present, and that production has soared by 30 per cent in a year to a record 6,100 tons.

The Afghan government realizes it can't defeat the insurgency without taking on the opium trade.

"The drug dealers, the Taliban and the warlords are the same network," said Gen Khodaidad, Afghanistan's deputy minister of counter-narcotics.

"Nato should destroy these people. They should hit their headquarters, their convoys, the drugs labs and factories.

"Drugs are the main source of income for the Taliban."

The Afghan government has figured out that drug money pays for the Taliban to hire the warlords to protect the poppy farmers to generate the drug money to... you get the idea.

"This may be the place where the military has to get involved. There is an increasing relationship between the Taliban and the drugs trade. Drugs feed corruption and a lack of governance. Any security is an illusion unless the drugs issue is tackled."

The Taliban are estimated to earn tens of millions of dollars by charging a tithe for protecting poppy fields, where farmers benefited this year from good weather and corruption among officials.

However, the British, whose military forces operate in Helmand province, are slow to get this. For them, the operative theory up till now has been not to do anything to upset the local population.

Officials in Kabul were incensed when British psychological operations teams put out radio broadcasts in April that announced that British soldiers would not destroy poppy crops because they knew people had a livelihood to earn.

A senior Western diplomat in Kabul said: "Nato is adamant that it will not become a poppy eradication force, but there is a need for them to provide much more active support on interdiction and trafficking, even security for (Afghan) eradication teams."

It makes sense. The Taliban and warlords cannot defend the poppy fields from aerial attack. If the NATO forces (or Afghan forces with NATO support) destroy the crop this year and make a credible promise to destroy it next year as well, the opium industry in Afghanistan will collapse, and opium buyers will abandon Afghanistan for more secure sources of supply. The Taliban and the warlords will no longer be able to extract their livelihoods from the sweat of the local population, and will have nothing to offer except the certainty that they will bring war, death and destruction to the locals.

Burn the poppy fields -- using napalm if necessary -- and let the poppy farmers know that NATO will not let another poppy crop mature in Afghanistan. Tell them that the days of allowing opium cultivation so that the farmers can feed their families are over -- that it's time for the farmers to find other crops (perhaps with outside aid) or starve.

Is the British government capable of understanding this imperative? If not, will they rearrange their deployment to let American forces do the job?

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