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Thread: Afghanistan's Drug Problem

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Afghanistan's Drug Problem

    17 September Wall Street Journal commentary - Afghanistan's Catch-22 by Dana White.

    ... "In my 33 years in the military, I have never seen tougher terrain than here," says the general, who adds that the "vast majority of the country" is now secure. "There are about five or six provinces that have significant security challenges and they are primarily in rural areas." Translation: Kabul and major cities are calm, but in the southern and eastern provinces, where the government hasn't established its authority, violence prevails.

    In some regions, peace admittedly won't come easily, if at all. Take the border with Pakistan, which is roughly twice as long as California--and twice as mountainous. Gen. Eikenberry says the area can't physically be secured, no matter how many boots are planted on the ground. True, Pakistan has committed nearly 80,000 troops to the effort, but the general--while lauding the cooperation between the Pakistani and Afghan forces, which are old foes--avoids questions about why Taliban insurgents are still finding safe haven in Pakistan.

    Other areas, however, could be secured, and haven't been--particularly the southern provinces. In recent months, Taliban fighters seized on the transfer of control from U.S. to NATO forces and engaged in pitched battles. NATO's top commander said earlier this month that he needs 15% more troops to effectively roll back the Taliban threat. They may not get there before the Afghan winter sets in and the Taliban retreats into well-fortified caves.

    "The insurgents are better equipped and better trained than they were a year ago," Gen. Eikenberry says. "People often fail to understand the full complexity of the violence here. There are several causes for violence in these provinces, including land disputes, tribal feuds and property titles. Taliban fighters often capitalize on these existing divisions to garner support in local communities."

    Gen. Eikenberry understands the root of the problem. And it's a big one. In 2005, Afghanistan earned $2.7 billion in opium exports, or 52% of its GDP--plenty of cash to support an insurgency. That fighting has, in turn, basically halted all of the infrastructure build-out that was meant to provide Afghan farmers and other rural residents alternatives to growing poppy.

    "In traveling around the country, the top concern of Afghans is unemployment, education and irrigation," Gen. Eikenberry confirms. But to address these issues--and here's the catch-22--violence in rural Afghanistan must first be quelled. If it isn't, the infrastructure that will facilitate trade cannot be built...

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Big problem

    The General hit the nail on the head about the drug problem. Families,tribes have been doing this ages. Until you can find a way to replace this source of income so they can take care of their families nothing will get done. Simple crop replacement will not work unless it provides the same level of income that the Afghan's are used to. It is true that this should be a Afghan police problem, however I doubt they can handle it.

    The other problem is that culture thing again. They really don't think they are doing anything wrong, and I suspect the US intervention is viewed as a form harassment more than anything else. If possible the US should stay away from this and let the Afghan's handle it.

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    Default Drug problem

    I guess the first question is are the drugs actually funding the insurgency? The Taleban eliminated the drug trade when they ruled, and the routing of the Taleban gave the clans the freedom they needed to convert back to their old ways. They may pay protection money to some insurgent elements where the coalition isn't effective, but do they willingly fund a significant portion of the insurgency?

    If we go after the drugs, won't that be perceived as an attack on their culture and their means of wealth production? In that case wouldn't that encourage them to form a temporarily alliance with the Taleban or other insurgent or criminal organizations to resist the coalition?

    If we don't go after the drugs (just let it happen), then what happens? What is the worst case scenario? I'll go out on a limb here thinking out load. Wouldn't we have more influence over a criminal clan that has real economic interests, than a bunch of ideological zealots? Maybe the lesser of the evils is the drug clans in the short term is drug clans?

    If not, can we effectively go after both? 53 percent of their GDP is very, very significant. I imagine the other 47% is foreign aid?

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    Default The Taliban and the drug trade

    Bill,

    I don't think the Taliban ever really eliminated the drug trade, although they did make it more inconvient for a while. I have seen some reports that they actually found a way to profit from the trade.

    If it were true that the enemy did not profit from the drug trade, then it might be cost effective to just buy the drugs and take them off the market or sell them to pharmaceutical companies. My speculation is that people who grow and sell drugs do not have many inhibitions and therefore, they are likely to be dealing with other people without inhibitions including the enemy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Merv Benson View Post
    If it were true that the enemy did not profit from the drug trade, then it might be cost effective to just buy the drugs and take them off the market or sell them to pharmaceutical companies. My speculation is that people who grow and sell drugs do not have many inhibitions and therefore, they are likely to be dealing with other people without inhibitions including the enemy.
    We were going to do this and then stiffed the farmers. We told them if they planted wheat instead of poppies, we'd buy it and give them the difference. Then we cut that part out of the budget. In the end, there were a whole bunch of new wheat farmers pissed at Americans for not making good on their promise. So now poppie production is about 60% of the country. Cool little 2nd and 3rd order effect there.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Now your thinking about how to win

    Merv, that is exactly what we should be doing. Opium has many legitimate medical purposes and the potential for a win win situation for all is something that should be pursued ASAP. However it probably want happen. Why? Because we spend to much time trying to figure out how to fight instead of figuring out how to win.

    Bill, I think your observations are correct not just one but all. Here is why. The results of drug profits that you never hear about is that the money creeps into legitimate business, government, etc. The local hospital has a new wing built by the upstanding citizen who is related to a big wealthy drug dealer. The upstanding citizen gets elected to public office, the hospital gets a new wing to treat children, and the drug dealer grows more powerful, safe in the shadows.

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    Default 900 pound Gorilla

    I have been referring to the drug issue in OEF as the 900 pound gorilla in the room for more thhan a year because no one was addressing it in serious discussions. At least LTG Eikenberry is doing that now.

    Tom

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    From The Senlis Council:

    Failed Counter-Narcotics Policies Central to Failure of Afghanistan’s Reconstruction
    Misguided and badly formulated drug policy has accelerated and compounded all of Afghanistan’s problems, and has effectively hijacked the international community’s nation-building efforts in the country. Five years ago, the international community prioritised counter-narcotics as one of their top objectives for Afghanistan, yet this priority, almost more than anything else, ignored the realities of the country. Afghanistan is severely debilitated by poverty, and poppy cultivation represents a survival strategy for millions of Afghans. Most of Afghanistan is so mired in poverty that without poppy, families cannot feed their children. This misplaced prioritisation of counter-narcotics focused substantial amounts of aid funds away from development and poverty relief; prompted the formulation of ill conceived drug policies for Afghanistan and misinformed the implementation strategies for these eradication and alternative development policies.

    Yet despite all the counter-narcotics and alternative development funds provided by the international community, the opium crisis in Afghanistan is worse than ever, and entrenched in almost all facets of Afghan society. In September 2006 the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime announced record poppy cultivation levels in Afghanistan: 165,000 hectares of poppy were cultivated in the 2005-2006 growing season, with a potential yield of 6,100 metric tons of opium. This is a 59% percent increase from 2005, and demonstrates that five years of flawed counternarcotics priorities have brought no positive change in Afghanistan. They have only served to undermine government legitimacy, stability, security and development, whilst farmers have lost confidence in the current Karzai administration. Ultimately, this loss of confidence has ultimately aided insurgents. Five years ago, the total area of cultivated hectares of poppy was less than half of the current total....
    CRS, 25 Jan 06: Afghanistan: Narcotics and U.S. Policy (first published in '04, updated annually)

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Fiasco II

    I guess Tom Ricks can write another book and call it Fiasco II.

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    Default Fiasco or progress?

    This particular thread is fascinating and telling in many ways beyond the opium problem.

    First, RTK can you shed more light on who approved, then who disapproved the replacement crop program? While I doubt it would have worked, it still indicates that our bureaucracy is unwieldy and in many cases prohibits progress. Most agree that the people are the prize in COIN operations, and we can’t win that prize by refusing to walk or talk. This is a well known problem in Iraq also with Civil Affairs, where numerous promised projects were never delivered. Credibility is critical, and I think we would probably be better off promising “realistic” projects that incrementally improve their quality of life, vice trying to build a Hoover dam.

    Thanks for the CRS report Jedburgh, as it clarified the issue of the Taliban allegedly suppressing the opium trade (only a partial truth). President Karsai believes the center of gravity in Afghanistan centers on the drug trade and carrying the fight into the Pakistan border region. Just because it isn’t politically correct, doesn’t mean it isn’t correct. Taking the fight into Pakistan border areas would be easier than targeting the drug trade. How do we shut the opium business and still win the prize? We have only been minimal progress in S. America, and there is no real end in sight. The West won’t tolerate operating in a tunnel with no light at the end, so stay the course doesn’t cut it on the political level. Traditional COIN doctrine doesn’t provide any solutions, so where are we at?

    The Hoover dam analogy I mentioned was establishing a stable, democratic country. Stable, democratic countries rely on sound economies, which is a bridge too far in many countries. I still think the reality is that much of the world isn’t ready for democracy, and you can’t impose on them. The neo-con favorite, “The End of History” had flawed assumptions that we are still pursuing at great expense. The Taliban and the communists could take over a country and impose extremely harsh population control measures, force people into reeducation camps, and somewhat effectively implement change and enforce it under an oppressive rule. We obviously can’t take that route when we’re trying to spread democracy. When they lost power the culture amazingly retracted back to its historic norm.

    When the people are ready for democracy we should lend a hand, but in the mean time we need to clarify what our national interests are, and one could argue that we need to collectively clarify what the West’s security interests are, then develop a realistic strategy to achieve them. Mitigate versus defeat, military punitive raids and preemptive strikes versus occupation, increased spending on homeland security, and a robust information program that unapologetically puts the enemy on the defensive. Every strategy must be sustainable, over reaction will result in depletion of our will and resources prior to the enemies. This way we’ll resources available to respond to opportunities and apply the ink spot strategy globally.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    First, RTK can you shed more light on who approved, then who disapproved the replacement crop program?
    I can say this much; it was agreed upon in early 2002 between US State Department and the military. Much discussion was made over whose budget it would come from. After it was determined it would come from DOD funds, it was later dropped as part of a "trimming of the fat."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    ...How do we shut the opium business and still win the prize? We have only been minimal progress in S. America, and there is no real end in sight...
    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9
    ...The results of drug profits that you never hear about is that the money creeps into legitimate business, government, etc. The local hospital has a new wing built by the upstanding citizen who is related to a big wealthy drug dealer. The upstanding citizen gets elected to public office, the hospital gets a new wing to treat children, and the drug dealer grows more powerful, safe in the shadows...
    "Shutting down" drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan may be a bridge too far. Bill pointed out our significant lack of progress along that road in South America - and that is in dealing with countries that are far more developed and have more diverse economies than Afghanistan can even dream of at the moment. Crop substitution has proven to be a useful, although limited, tool in the fight to reduce production - but we've already seen that approach pretty much discarded.

    Slapout's illustration ties right into Bill's statement. As bad as narco-influence is in portions of South America, it is exponentially worse in Afghanistan. And far more dangerous, in that it is fueling the reemergence of the Taliban and the intensification of the insurgency - and do not think for a moment that Al-Qa'ida elements are not taking a slice of the pie.

    This drug trade also contributes to the destabilization of Afghanistan's neighbors, Iran and Pakistan (and reinforces the already strong influences of organized crime in the states of former Soviet Central Asia). Pakistan poses an existential threat, being that it is on the teetering edge of being a failed state, and with the ISI and other government elements having kept their greedy hands in the trade for a very long time. Pakistan offers up a frightening nexus of unstable government, organized crime, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

    Are we going to come to a resource point where we eventually have to decide between continuing to conduct ops in either Iraq or Afghanistan? (this is not a rhetorical question) In your opinions, which neighborhood has the greater potential to fill the vacuum/absorb the impact of a coalition pullout, and which is more likely to complete the descent into a failed state and terrorist operational hub?

    Someone has to be studying these contingencies.

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    Default the Smuggler's Blues

    A lot has been posted since I last read this thread and yes, I agree this is good discussion and profitable, many excellent points have been.

    My opinion about Afghanistan is the drug problem should go to the bottom the list. Jed posted a second link to a paper about the family structure and the reliance on profits to survive. If we begin to do major drug enforcement ops we will rip this entire social fabric apart. Half the country will be dead or in jail and the other half will be hunting US troops for revenge.

    I was going to ask RTK the same question as Bill. RTK thanks for responding. I think our COA should be to use the Nancy Reagan approach. Put up some posters that say "just say to no to drugs" and let the Afghan's deal with it. Jed you are right this would truly be a drug war with a lot of US casualties.

    Closer to home my concern is Mexico. Middle eastern males can pose as Mexican males and cross our borders with ease. This is an extremely dangerous situation. We worry about people with nukes, which we should, but what if 250 Iranian Special force troops were roving around the US setting off IEDs. The bearded mini-me in Iran may be telling the truth when he says he doesn't need Nukes to do us in. can you imagine the effect that would have on our country!!! They wouldn't even have to kill anybody, just blow #### up!!!

    Finally drug dealing is profitable and PORTABLE. When you have a success in one country it often moves to another. Columbia is a Bright spot, but it is fragile especially with the mother FARCers and Hugo(professional devil smeller) Chavez right next door. We have talked about Afghanistan's neighbors, and this same effect happens from state to state in the US. Like COIN you need to have a world approach and you need to pick your battles and win but not at the expense of loosing the war.

    And finally,finally we need to stop this get out the vote routine (democracy) for every country in the world. In the end they will have the government that they want just like the US did. What we should be concerned about is their foreign policy to wards the US. If it is peaceful then trade with them, if not?? Do like Bill said and deal with the threat and leave.

    I didn't mean to rant so much but I just finished watching the history channel special about SF and the 82ND in Afghanistan. That place is nothing but one big rock. Dosen't look like there is much else to do but grow dope and watch the goats and shoot at the americans.

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    Default Get Serious About Afghanistan

    4 October Los Angeles Times commentary - Get Serious About Afghanistan by Max Boot.

    ... The situation is still not as dire as in Iraq, as anyone who has recently been to both countries can attest. But the trends are ominous.

    A large part of the fault lies with Pakistan. After making some efforts to curb Taliban activity, President Pervez Musharraf seems to have thrown in the towel. He has agreed to withdraw troops from Waziristan, turning over a frontier area the size of New Jersey to Taliban supporters. He also released from prison about 2,500 foreign fighters linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Since those actions, U.S. officials report that Taliban attacks in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan have tripled.

    Pakistan isn't just turning a blind eye to Taliban activity. Its Inter-Services Intelligence agency seems to be increasing the amount of training and logistical support it provides to Islamist militants — and not just in Afghanistan. While Musharraf was promoting his book in the U.S. last week, Indian police announced that they hold Pakistani intelligence responsible for the Mumbai train bombings that killed 186 people in July...

    What should the U.S. do? Sending more troops isn't in the cards...

    This anemic level of support makes it impossible to address Afghanistan's drug problem, which would require subsidizing farmers to plant alternative crops. It also makes it difficult to build up indigenous security forces to stop the Taliban. Earlier this year, the Pentagon suggested that the goal for the Afghan National Army would be downsized from 70,000 troops to 50,000. (The figure at the moment is under 40,000.) But even 70,000 troops wouldn't be enough to protect a nation of 31 million. The Bush administration should announce that it will dramatically increase assistance with the goal of creating an Afghan army of, say, 150,000 troops. More money and more American advisors also should go to the Afghan police force, which is larger but considerably less capable than the army...

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    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
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    I tend to listen when Max Boot speaks. He seems to understand what he is talking about rather than just being another partisan.

    SFC W

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    Quote Originally Posted by Uboat509 View Post
    I tend to listen when Max Boot speaks...

    SFC W
    Same here.

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    The Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor, 10 May 07:

    Afghanistan’s Drug Trade and How it Funds Taliban Operations
    ...Opium eradication is a promising counter-terrorism strategy if it can be executed without damaging the livelihood of the average opium farmer. For every leaflet and exhortation from the insurgents justifying opium, the Afghan government should be there to highlight the Taliban’s hypocrisy and advertise the damage done to other Muslims.

    Second, development programs that offset farmers’ loss of income also need to provide some benefit to the pool of unemployed workers from which the Taliban recruit. Intervening in the opium economy means re-arranging a number of markets, including those for labor. At least, the underemployed or unemployed should not be left worse off, although, of course, the better outcome is a self-sustaining development trajectory.

    Compensation to farmers is probably necessary. Options for delivering compensation are complicated by the tendency of some farmers to receive loans from traders and insurgents in anticipation of opium delivery, creating a debt burden that requires alleviation. A plan to pay at the end of the planting season is likely to be resisted more strongly. However, payment at the start of the season raises the risks of cheating and also the costs of monitoring since some crops may need to be checked twice. The United Kingdom’s payments for not planting in 2002 and 2003 were unsuccessful as farmers (and politicians) pocketed funds and still produced opium....

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    We were starting to see the Taliban use drug profits to fund their operations when I was in country.

    The opium trade will never be eliminated from Afghanistan, and the cocaine trade will never be eliminated from Colombia. The only chance, and it's a limited chance at that, is to buy the entire crop every year, sell what you can of it to pharmacutecal companies, and burn the rest.

    Then you take the funds from selling the stuff and start rebuilding the infrastructure.

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    Default U.S. Tries to Stem Afghan Opium, Belatedly

    NYTIMES article covering the Bush Administration's movement to combine counterinsurgency with anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan. I read this with a ugly sinking feeling. We may well be on the way to losing this war as well.

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    Crop substitution programs, buying the opium crop etc. are all attractive ideas but they do nothing to eliminate the demand by illicit users. No matter what you do that demand will always be there over and above anything you do to try and reduce planting. That continueing demand plus the illegal status of the drug will make for big money (demand + illegal= lots of money) and big money means somebody will try to get it.

    Tom likened the opium trade to a 900 pound gorilla in the room. There is an unmentioned club in the room that will beat down the gorilla to maybe 100 pounds, drug legalization. Legalization would remove the variable from the business that makes it so impossibly lucrative right now; lucre that bad guys take the most advantage of.

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