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Thread: Afghanistan's Drug Problem

  1. #221
    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    I would simply find out what coercion the Taliban used to all but eradicate poppy cultivation in 2001 and suggest to the US's Afghan partners that the same methods be adopted.
    The Taliban did not try to suppress opium production until they were in full control, and appear to have only done so in 2001 as part of their drive to get UN recognition as Afghanistan's legitimate government. Prior to their ban on opium production, they derived enormous revenue from taxing and sale of the crop, and continued to do so after the ban as 2000 had been a bumper crop. Some observers assert that the ban was more to restrict supply and increase profits for opium shippers, avoiding a glut on the market. In 2001, prior to September, they had authorized Afghan farmers to plant opium again (as seen in the record crops after their fall).

    As for the methods? That's pretty simple. The Taliban had Pakistan on their side and had established a government that has a monopoly of force over the Afghan countryside.

    So ... we should win the war first?

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    Quote Originally Posted by bourbon View Post
    The destabilizing effect that the increasing traffic of Afghan heroin into China brings.
    I would suggest that is a double edged blade given that Afghan opium and derivatives have a significant 'destabilizing' impact on Europe and North American.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    The Taliban did not try to suppress opium production until they were in full control, and appear to have only done so in 2001 as part of their drive to get UN recognition as Afghanistan's legitimate government. Prior to their ban on opium production, they derived enormous revenue from taxing and sale of the crop, and continued to do so after the ban as 2000 had been a bumper crop. Some observers assert that the ban was more to restrict supply and increase profits for opium shippers, avoiding a glut on the market. In 2001, prior to September, they had authorized Afghan farmers to plant opium again (as seen in the record crops after their fall).
    This supports the argument that opium production is an important source of funding for the Taliban.

    I draw your attention to this source: How Opium Profits the Taliban

    I quote two short extracts from this 2009 paper:

    NATO commanders and donor nations have tended to view Afghanistan’s opium trade as a law enforcement issue, often not considering its broader implications for trade, security, and development. The insurgency, meanwhile, is treated as a military matter. This division has stymied efforts to build a comprehensive strategy toward southern Afghanistan, where a more holistic approach could prove more successful.

    ...

    … , this study will demonstrate that insurgent actors in many Afghan villages today behave more like mafiosi than mujahideen. More than 80 percent of those surveyed for this project believe Taliban commanders in the south now fight for profit rather than religion or ideology. And according to recent NATO military intelligence, as few as 5 percent of insurgent commanders now fight for ideological reasons.
    This brings us back to 120mm's earlier post and highlights where the problem lies... being if both the generals (and their political masters) and the troops on the ground don't have a clue about what they are dealing with on the ground then quite frankly there is no hope.

    So this then links into another thread here: Time to hold the US generals accountable for Afg. and Iraq. I believe that regular purges of the general staff is a good thing - short of (in Stalin style) shooting them out of hand as that is a little extreme - where they certainly lose all pensions and benefits and in deserving cases would face criminal charges.

    The criminal negligence of how the US and Brit commanders have approached the opium matter in Afghanistan should be dealt with the military justice system where I'm sure charged framed broadly under 'dereliction of duty' could see a number put away for ten years or more. That would be justice seen to be done.

    My comments some time ago that a number of seats on aircraft out of Afghanistan should be reserved for those (across the rank structure) who get (or should get relieved) and need to go were met with derision in some quarters but it certainly needs to be not just be considered but implemented without delay for in theatre commanders who haven't got the smarts to simply connect the dots (when it comes to the integration of the Afghan insurgency and opium production).

    As for the methods? That's pretty simple. The Taliban had Pakistan on their side and had established a government that has a monopoly of force over the Afghan countryside.

    So ... we should win the war first?
    No... the Taliban probably said something like... "if we see poppies growing we will get the farmers to first destroy their crop then we will shoot them." Its all about the KISS principle... keep it simple and unambiguous and let the ANA enforce it. Life is cheap in Afghanistan.

    Win first? Does this question indicate that you don't see how inextricably interwoven poppy production and the insurgency are?

  4. #224
    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    No... the Taliban probably said something like... "if we see poppies growing we will get the farmers to first destroy their crop then we will shoot them." Its all about the KISS principle... keep it simple and unambiguous and let the ANA enforce it. Life is cheap in Afghanistan.

    Win first? Does this question indicate that you don't see how inextricably interwoven poppy production and the insurgency are?
    No. Defeating poppy production is not key to defeating the insurgency in my opinion.

    The warlords who the Taliban defeated also profited enormously from opium. Yet the Taliban did not seek to destroy opium (the main source of funds for their enemy - the warlords depended on opium to a far greater extent than the Taliban does) until they were fully in control.

    The Taliban are able to profit from opium because they have power in the countryside and over smuggling routes, not the other way around. That power did not come from opium money. It came from ideological commitment, successful organization, backing from the Pakistani military, and most importantly the lack of effective competition from the Afghan government or other Afghan actors.

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    Pressed for time at the moment, but re this...

    the Taliban probably said something like... "if we see poppies growing we will get the farmers to first destroy their crop then we will shoot them." Its all about the KISS principle... keep it simple and unambiguous and let the ANA enforce it. Life is cheap in Afghanistan.
    What makes you think the ANA or the Afghan government have any interest at all in reducing opium production? Aren't they sharing the profits from opium production?

    The Taliban were able to eliminate poppy production because they governed the country and there were no limits on the amount or nature of force they were able to apply to do whatever they wanted to do.

    The US doesn't want to govern Afghanistan and is not willing to run around shooting people who grow poppies. The Afghan government and army aren't going to shoot people who grow poppies because they get some of the money the poppies bring in. That makes a plan to eradicate poppies by shooting those who grow them a bit fanciful, because neither we nor the Afghan government/army are willing to do the shooting.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

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    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    No. Defeating poppy production is not key to defeating the insurgency in my opinion.
    You see this is what I find so strange about the attitude towards and understanding of COIN amongst serving age men of today.

    When someone says you need to get out there and kill the Taliban the response is that COIN is a 80:20 ratio where direct military action is only 20% of the effort required. Then when someone raises the matter of acting against opium production (which has been proven to a substantial part of the insurgency and significant source of funding for the Taliban) the shutters come down and its treated as a separate and insignificant aspect of the Afghan situation which should be virtually ignored even though it is one of the more important aspects of the 80%.

    All very strange.

    The warlords who the Taliban defeated also profited enormously from opium. Yet the Taliban did not seek to destroy opium (the main source of funds for their enemy - the warlords depended on opium to a far greater extent than the Taliban does) until they were fully in control.
    So what's your point? That you finally agree that the US government and its military is actually protecting the warlord/druglord side of the Afghan drug trade? And you are OK that thousands of US soldiers are being killed/maimed/wounded in the process? Shameful!

    The Taliban are able to profit from opium because they have power in the countryside and over smuggling routes, not the other way around. That power did not come from opium money. It came from ideological commitment, successful organization, backing from the Pakistani military, and most importantly the lack of effective competition from the Afghan government or other Afghan actors.
    Oh boy, I guess somehow it is lost on you that the poppy crop is in the fields right under the noses of the ISAF and ANA forces. This is unlike stuff grown elsewhere which is partially hidden under jungle canopy it is in the open and and can be easily identified from the air prior to harvest.

    Now I accept that the problem is to get an honest buy in from the current Afghan government. This can be used to leverage a quicker withdrawal from Afghanistan in the form of a demand for total compliance from the Karai regime - rather like the ultimatum Bush gave the Taliban over handing over AQ.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    Pressed for time at the moment, but re this...

    What makes you think the ANA or the Afghan government have any interest at all in reducing opium production? Aren't they sharing the profits from opium production?
    I have said a number of times that the Karzai regime is both democratically illegitimate and criminally corrupt.

    As I said stated in my previous post an ultimatum should be issued to the Karzai regime on the basis that they clean up their act (not only in terms of drugs) or ISAF and all aid is out of there. It would be a good way to get out.

    The Taliban were able to eliminate poppy production because they governed the country and there were no limits on the amount or nature of force they were able to apply to do whatever they wanted to do.
    Good that you understand that.

    The US doesn't want to govern Afghanistan and is not willing to run around shooting people who grow poppies. The Afghan government and army aren't going to shoot people who grow poppies because they get some of the money the poppies bring in. That makes a plan to eradicate poppies by shooting those who grow them a bit fanciful, because neither we nor the Afghan government/army are willing to do the shooting.
    I would suggest that the US government makes it a condition of their (and NATO) continued support and aid that the ANA clear of areas of poppy cultivation (using their own methods). This would be monitored by satellite. If the Karzai regime fails to keep its side of the bargain then its bye-bye.

    Remember KISS and that (as difficult as it may be for a USian) not everything is negotiable.

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    I have said a number of times that the Karzai regime is both democratically illegitimate and criminally corrupt.
    I've said similar things many times. I'd add that it is also weak, with very limited ability to impose its will on its nominal subordinates.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    As I said stated in my previous post an ultimatum should be issued to the Karzai regime on the basis that they clean up their act (not only in terms of drugs) or ISAF and all aid is out of there. It would be a good way to get out...

    ...I would suggest that the US government makes it a condition of their (and NATO) continued support and aid that the ANA clear of areas of poppy cultivation (using their own methods). This would be monitored by satellite. If the Karzai regime fails to keep its side of the bargain then its bye-bye.
    I agree that this would be an excellent way to get out, but I don't think it would have much influence on opium production. Even in the unlikely event that Karzai wanted to stamp out production, I doubt that he has the ability to persuade or compel his nominal subordinates to tear up one of their largest sources of income. I think he'd make some big promises followed by a very thin charade of compliance, and come back with "we tried". Then it would be up to the US to decide whether they want to follow through on the ultimatum or not.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Remember KISS and that (as difficult as it may be for a USian) not everything is negotiable.
    We're talking about the US issuing a non-negotiable ultimatum to Karzai, knowing that he probably hasn't the capacity to comply even if he wants to, which he doesn't. That's all well and good if the US willing to back up the ultimatum with action. If they aren't willing to dump the whole thing and walk away, they shouldn't issue the ultimatum. I personally have no problem with dumping the whole thing and walking away, but my opinion means nothing. The worst thing they could do is issue such an ultimatum if they're not willing to back it up.

    That process might provide a good excuse for an exit, but again, I don't think it would have much influence on opium production, unless the Taliban take over and suppress it again. They might not suppress it even if they do take over: drug money is as addictive as drugs, and they've been sucking on that teat for a while now. Obviously we don't know what would happen, but I don't think we can assume that because the Taliban suppressed opium production last time around they will do it again if they get back in.

    Again, worth noting that even when the Taliban had reduced Afghan production to minimal levels, heroin remained available on American and European streets. As long as demand and profitability are in place, someone will move in and pick up supply. That suggests to me that if we want to deal with the drug issue we should target demand and profitability, not supply, not that my opinion means anything.
    Last edited by Dayuhan; 04-15-2012 at 03:23 AM.
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    Council Member bourbon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    I would suggest that is a double edged blade given that Afghan opium and derivatives have a significant 'destabilizing' impact on Europe and North American.
    No doubt it is a double edged sword; but the nations most directly impacted by the the flow of Afghan opium are Iran, Russia, the Central Asian Republics and China.

    It reminds me of a Russian proverb where a farmer is plowing his field and comes upon a lamp with a magic genie in it. The genie says “you may have one wish, but be warned – whatever you wish for will be granted to your neighbor by 2x.”

    The farmer looks at the genie, and says “poke out one eye”.


    Anyway, my solution is to pump the opium into China.
    “[S]omething in his tone now reminded her of his explanations of asymmetric warfare, a topic in which he had a keen and abiding interest. She remembered him telling her how terrorism was almost exclusively about branding, but only slightly less so about the psychology of lotteries…” - Zero History, William Gibson

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    Default If this is a drug war, we have lost.

    A few days ago a KoW post appeared 'Setting the Record Straight on Eradication in Helmand' by Ryan Evans is a devasting critique of what happened recently. A taster:
    This is the ultimate irony: In a campaign premised (rightly or wrongly) on the idea of alleviating the grievances of the population and winning its ‘hearts and minds,’ the single most damaging thing being done to Afghans is a Western and UN-funded crop eradication program.
    Link:http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2012/05/set...on-in-helmand/

    Ryan writes this very puzzling sentence, without a fuller explanation, with my emphasis:
    Afghanistan produces an estimated three times the annual global poppy demand for heroin.
    Why? Who is buying all the poppies and then producing heroin - which is placed in storage?

    Ryan also points to the blogsite of a UK analyst:http://www.davidmansfield.org/all.php and a far wider Chatham House project on Drugs and Organized Crime:http://www.chathamhouse.org/research...rganized-crime
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-03-2013 at 09:16 AM. Reason: Was in separate thread, now merged with the next four posts
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    Default A Helmand Province goldmine

    The post started an exchange and the last person added a stunning comment:
    In 02 when we reduced opium cultivation in Nad-i-Ali by 85% in one crop year (just before our funding was cut) it was done with a drainage rehabilitation project that hired some 3000-5000 men to work on their own irrigation system for pay, some $1.75 a day, start support for the cotton gin that had not had any spare parts for some 20 years, back payments for cotton delivered to the gin but not yet paid for, promises for a continuing reconstruction effort (which did not happen) early warnings not to plant poppy and eradication at germination time, in time to replant with wheat. The farmers in at least Nad-i-Ali were into peanuts big time with Pakistani and Iranian markets, starting in early vegetables with crude green houses and several other innovations which did not get support....One of the key reasons for the developing drug based economy has been our ineffectiveness (understatement) in addressing the issue for the past 10 years.
    Link:http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2012/05/set...mand/#comments

    Within the KoW comments the last one IMHO opens a "pandora's box" of information on the drug control issues in the Helmand Valley, a blog by a USAID analyst who was on the ground 1971-78 and 2003-2012.

    Link:http://www.scottshelmandvalleyarchives.org/

    I hope that, being selfish for a moment, that this information was available to the UK in 2006, for those assembling the intelligence briefings when the decision was made to intervene and those who once survival was not so dominant could use it as 'human terrain' material.

    Just on a quick glance, as there are hundreds of documents, they constitute a "goldmine".
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  12. #232
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Why? Who is buying all the poppies and then producing heroin - which is placed in storage?
    The problem for large traffickers is keeping the global price of their heroin product propped up; just like the DeBeers corporation will keep diamonds off of the market to maintain the high price of diamonds, so too do drug cartels (there is a reason why they are called "cartels" after all).

    Heroin has a long shelf life; there are caches of heroin all around the world, just to keep the price inflated.

    The raw material costs (of opium) are nothing compared to what the final product (heroin) sells for, its peanuts – the ROI is huge.
    “[S]omething in his tone now reminded her of his explanations of asymmetric warfare, a topic in which he had a keen and abiding interest. She remembered him telling her how terrorism was almost exclusively about branding, but only slightly less so about the psychology of lotteries…” - Zero History, William Gibson

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    Whenever surplus possibilities are current, drug dealers will have enticements to bring forth the supply to satisfy purchaser's desires. The finer the excesses are to be rated, the finer, the rewards and the finer the supply of drug selections approach over time.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 09-21-2012 at 01:37 PM. Reason: PM to author after initial posts x3

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    Default The micro-level of the Afghan civil war

    Ryan Evans has another paper on wider, related matters in CTC's Sentinel:http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-mi...lmand-province

    I noted two linked passages, my emphasis added:
    Helmand has been the largest poppy-producing province in Afghanistan by a considerable margin. With the eradication program in Helmand wiping out only three percent of the yearly crop, at the cost of alienating struggling farmers whose meager poppy profits barely get them and their families through the year, the utility of this counternarcotics program is questionable at best
    Nothing startling I fear:
    In Helmand, there is a “Gray Nexus” among the Afghan government, narcotics cartels, the insurgency, and the population based on a common interest in poppy cultivation, processing, and trafficking. The insurgency serves as a protection and transportation racket for the cartels. It also plays a role in surging migrant farmers to help with the harvest in the spring and, in some areas, the insurgents offer farmers protection against eradication efforts. Poppy cultivation and narcotics trafficking represent the most important source of revenue for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.[40] Government officials profit by allowing and facilitating trafficking. It is not uncommon for government officials in Helmand to be more directly involved in cultivation, processing, trafficking and facilitation. Poppy profits, which are modest for farmers, provide enough cash for a family to meet its costs of living. These profits also serve as a form of insurance for family illnesses, failed crops, drought, and any needed repairs.
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    Default How Iran Won the War on Drugs

    An article from Foreign Affairs, with a rather startling suggestion - copying Iran's way - as Afghanistan's drug addiction problem worsens:http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articl...rugs?page=show

    It opens with:
    ...the narcotics trade presents one of the gravest threats to the country’s long-term stability and security.... Afghanistan remains the world’s largest supplier of heroin and other illegal opiates.

    In NATO countries alone, Afghan narcotics cause more than 10,000 heroin-overdose deaths per year -- making them far deadlier than the munitions that have claimed the lives of approximately 3,200 coalition personnel since the start of the war.
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    Default Shock UN report: opium production up!

    Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has been increasing for a third year in a row and is heading for a record high, the U.N. said in a report released Monday. The boom in poppy cultivation is at its most pronounced in the Taliban's heartland in the south...

    Increased production has been driven by unusually high opium prices, but more cultivation of Afghanistan's premier cash crop is also an indication that Afghans are turning to illicit markets and crops as the real economy shrinks ahead of the expected withdrawal of foreign combat troops at the end of 2014.
    Link to Yahoo summary:http://news.yahoo.com/un-afghan-opiu...081638728.html

    Link to UNODC report:http://www.unodc.org/documents/crop-...13_phase12.pdf
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    Default US Army Makes Peace With Afghan Poppies

    Maybe this reflects a policy taken by default as the decisions were made lower and lower down the command chain. A short article on the US Army's last planned brigade deployment in Kandahar Province:http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013...n-poppies/all/

    The last two paragraphs:
    The Americans changed their approach to poppies in order to win over the countless Afghans who need poppies to survive.

    In that sense it might be too late for America’s hands-off poppy policy to work. As Gackstatter and his 2nd Platoon are learning, the war over Afghan poppies was probably lost years ago. And the U.S., now eying the exit after more than a decade of battle, is the loser.
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    Default Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world's opium.

    A short BBC report, by its experienced reporter, David Loyn; which opens with:
    Afghan opium cultivation has reached a record level, with more than 200,000 hectares planted with the poppy for the first time, the United Nations says. The UNODC report said the harvest was 36% up on last year, and if fully realised would outstrip global demand. Most of the rise was in Helmand province, where British troops are preparing to withdraw. One of the main reasons the UK sent troops to Helmand was to cut opium production.
    Link:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24919056

    No real surprises here.

    I would strongly disagree with opium production being a 'main reason' for the 2006 UK decision to deploy to Helmand. In one Whitehall discussion, at RUSI, one speaker stated drugs did not even appear as a reason and no-one consulted on that aspect.
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