Pubdate: Thu, 14 Jun 2007
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2007 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Author: Gordon Lubold, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Bookmark: (opium)
Bookmark: (Afghanistan)


Destroying The Nation's Mainstay Crop Could Complicate US Troops' 
Efforts To Win Hearts And Minds.

Washington - A bumper crop of poppies in Afghanistan is prompting 
Congress to push a reluctant US military into a bigger role to rid 
the country of the illegal trade.

The reason? Officials have long suspected that the centuries-old 
opium industry is funding the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan.

But direct intervention is tricky for US troops. If a key part of 
their counterinsurgency campaign is to win the hearts and minds of 
Afghans, the thinking goes, Americans can't be seen as the face of an 
effort to burn fields and eradicate a livelihood that is illegal but 
central to the country's fragile financial system.

Currently, the US provides only indirect support. Its policy leaves 
it to the Afghan government to contain the opium trade. By 
international agreement, British military forces are designated to 
support the Afghan effort, but they generally do not take an active 
role against the trade.

With opium production there skyrocketing, the US House of 
Representatives last week passed a $6.4 billion aid and 
reconstruction package for Afghanistan that contains a major 
counternarcotics component. The legislation would create a new 
position in government that would develop and coordinate a "coherent 
counternarcotics strategy" for all US government entities working in 
Afghanistan. The measure includes an anticorruption initiative that 
would cut funding to Afghan local and provincial governments found to 
be connected to Islamic terror organizations or narcotics 
traffickers. The bill, passed by the full House but not yet the 
Senate, would also require the US military to provide logistical 
support to as many as 150 US Drug Enforcement Agency personnel, such 
as flying them in and out of the field to conduct operations.

"You don't get around that country without [Defense Department] 
assets," says one Capitol Hill staffer familiar with the legislation. 
"You can't do it effectively."

Lawmakers like Reps. Tom Lantos (D) of California and Ileana 
Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida, who cosponsored the bill, believe the US 
has to do more.

"It is the drug trade that allows our enemies in Afghanistan to 
purchase the weapons with which they kill our soldiers and corrupt 
the Afghan government," says Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, who believes the 
legislation's new tools will allow the US government and military to 
combat the problem more effectively. She says troops should arrest 
kingpins, not farmers, to avoid angering the Afghanistan people.

US Congress urges military to tackle Afghan opium Destroying the 
nation's mainstay crop could complicate US troops' efforts to win 
hearts and minds.

Much of the opium production is concentrated in the south, where the 
insurgency is the strongest. Poppy cultivation is up nearly 60 
percent over last year's season, according to US reports. Afghanistan 
now accounts for more than 90 percent of the opium sold around the 
world, according to a separate State Department assessment, much of 
it manufactured into heroin for export to Western Europe and elsewhere.

"It's an enormous problem," says Daniel Markey, a senior analyst at 
the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "It definitely 
threatens to overwhelm a lot of the activities, maybe all of the 
major activities we have going on in Afghanistan, and makes our lives 
more difficult; you can't ignore that."

US officials have targeted the demand, asking nations to crack down 
on the heroin trade within their borders. But pushing the US military 
into a more significant role is a danger, says Christopher Langton, a 
retired British military officer and analyst with the International 
Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

"A large part of the insurgency's successful propaganda campaign 
dwells on the fact that the international community is in Afghanistan 
in the guise of invaders and occupiers," he says. "If you allow us, 
the so-called invaders and occupiers, to ravage an Afghan farmer's 
crop, you just reinforce that message."

Mr. Langton says the problem cannot be addressed in isolation and 
requires the international community to come up with solutions that 
don't rely only on what goes on in Afghanistan. "I believe you need a 
golf bag approach with several golf clubs, and you pick the one that 
applies to the country you're in," he says.

The White House doesn't support the bill, saying it raises the bar 
too high and could actually promote more corruption among Afghan officials.

It's not yet clear what the Senate version of the new bill will be. 
But Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia noted recently that the US 
military should only be in the background when it comes to this 
"insidious and tragic situation" of drug revenues in Afghanistan. Mr. 
Warner, who questioned Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the Bush 
administration's likely new "war czar" during his confirmation 
hearings Thursday, said he wanted as much clarity as possible on the 
military's role.

"I don't want to see the American GIs tasked as the principal persons 
that have got to go in and clean up this situation," Warner said.

"That's right," came General Lute's response. "This is fundamentally 
a law-enforcement and governance role, not a military role."
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