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The Collective
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT: Pentagon resists pleas for help in Afghan opium fight

While the Pentagon and the Drug Enforcement Administration, or the DEA, have been at odds, poppy cultivation has exploded, increasing by more than half this year. Afghanistan supplies about 92% of the world’s opium, and traffickers reap an estimated $2.3 billion in annual profits.

“It is surprising to me that we have allowed things to get to the point that they have,” said Robert B. Charles, a former top State Department counter-narcotics official. “It we do not act aggressively against the narcotics threat now, all gains made to date will be washed out to sea.”

The bumper crop of opium poppies, much of it from Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, finances the insurgency the U.S. is trying to dismantle.

The DEA’s advocates in Congress argue that the Pentagon could undermine the insurgency by combating the drugs that help finance it. Military officials say they can spare no resources from the task of fighting the Taliban and its allies.

Hmm. It seems like I read something over a year ago about the likelihood of this problem…

None of this should be a surprise. What should also not be a surprise is that members of Congress and the DEA think that there is a simple solution to this problem. Eradicating the crops is not an easy proposition-especially with the ongoing Taliban insurgency.

The current troop levels, further, are not adequate to such a task:

Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said that Afghanistan’s flourishing opium trade is a law enforcement problem, not a military one. It would be “mission creep” if the 21,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan were to turn their attention to opium, and it would also set a precedent for future combat operations, military officials say.

Of course, to say that this is a law enforcement problem, even if accurate, is to say that the situation is lost, because there is no effective state in Afghanistan, certainly not one that can assert control over the territory in question, to say it is a “law enforcement problem” is to say that nothing can be done about it. Also, based on our experiences (mixed results and all) in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia it is clear that crop eradication and interdiction policies are far from just “law enforcement problem[s].”

Now, the degree to which we should follow those models is a whole other debate, but since that is the operative paradigm in US counter-narcotics policy, then the SecDef needs to be honest about what he is saying about the problem.

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