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April 7, 2008
Afghanistan’s Poppy Fields Now
Afghanistan is the
world’s largest producer of opium, an essential ingredient of heroin.
The vast majority of Afghan/Pakistan-refined heroin is sold in Western
Europe and Great Britain to feed their growing number of heroin addicts.
Only between 5 percent and 15 percent reaches the U.S. The production is
so immense that it has even affected Afghan food supplies. According to
the International Monetary Fund, opium production is worth $1 billion to
Afghan farmers. A whopping 12 percent of the Afghan population is
involved in opium production.
Opium continues to be
the major source of funding for militants in the Northwest Frontier of
Pakistan, the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terrorist network in particular.
This symbiotic relationship is especially true since other sources of
funding through fraudulent charity front organizations and wealthy Saudi
benefactors have been dismantled and scrutinized through President
Bush’s Executive Order 13224 and the passage of the Patriot Act. So why
not directly attack this source of drug proceeds that finances terrorist
training and events the same way?
When I spoke at the
Department of Defense National Security Studies Program last year, I
learned from several general officer attendees that they didn’t view
drug enforcement as a military mission, and said that many of the opium
farmers were valuable sources of information for them in capturing and
killing terrorist leadership. Others expressed concern about the
economic well being of Afghanistan. But at what price, I asked?
If bombing aircraft
factories in Germany during World War II to halt aerial bombing raids on
London made sense then, why not destroy poppy fields that fill terrorist
coffers today? In two words: Political correctness.
It isn’t PC to deprive
a poor, hard working, uneducated dirt farmer the ability to feed his
family. That would be true if we weren’t talking about poppy. Crop
substitution programs have failed miserably in Afghanistan. Why? Because
there is much more money to be made from growing poppy than rice or
wheat, despite claims that drug lords force them to grow the illicit
crop. It’s as simple as that.
Afghan farmers don’t
consider what they are doing as immoral or harmful to their economy
because they don’t have Western morals or any sense of geopolitical
consequences of their acts. In fact, virtually all the Afghan farmers
are sympathetic to Al Qaeda, hate the West in general and hate the U.S.
But they readily
accept aid from the State Department and the UN in the form of new
roads, wells for irrigation and equipment for substitute crop
production. As a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration
on assignment in the mid-1990s to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad,
Pakistan, I saw the problem firsthand and the enormity of the situation.
Every time the State Department financed the drilling of a new well or
the construction of a new road, poppy production increased and farmers
had an easier way to bring their deadly opium to market.
NATO forces in
Afghanistan need to eradicate the farmers and heroin laboratories in
addition to the poppy. They need to poison the wells and tear up the
roads that have increased production. NATO nations have the most to gain
by eliminating or at least reducing opium production, but they lack the
political will. If the tables were reversed, poppy farmers wouldn’t
hesitate to do the same to us. I wouldn’t believe a word these people
tell me about the whereabouts of terrorist leaders, as they will say
whatever they think you want to hear in order to survive. They view
inaction by U.S. and NATO forces as utter weakness and ineptness, and
they wouldn’t hesitate to kill all the foreign soldiers on Afghan soil
if given the opportunity.
The only thing these
farmers understand is substantial, unrelenting blunt force that will
subside only when they decide to go along with the program: Grow
something other than poppy and accept the rule of the central government
in Kabul. Unless affirmative action is taken, heroin production and the
financing of terrorism will go unabated.
This may sound harsh
to some, but nothing else tried has worked. A radically different course
of action must take place if we ever expect to halt this major form of
Gregory D. Lee is a
nationally syndicated columnist who is a retired DEA Supervisory Special
Agent and has written extensively on the nexus between drugs and
terrorism. He can be reached through his website: www.gregorydlee.com.
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