Pubdate: Fri, 24 Jul 2009
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: A8
Copyright: 2009 The New York Times Company
Authors: Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller


WASHINGTON - The American-led mission in Afghanistan is all but
abandoning efforts to destroy the poppy crops that provide the largest
source of income to the insurgency, and instead will take significant
steps to wean local farmers off the drug trade - including one
proposal to pay them to grow nothing.

The strategy will shift from wiping out opium poppy crops, which
senior officials acknowledged had served only to turn poor farmers
into enemies of the central government in Kabul. New operations are
already being mounted to attack not the crops, but the drug runners
and the drug lords aligned with the insurgency.

Ultimately, farmers must be persuaded to plant other crops, including
wheat for domestic consumption and pomegranates and flowers for
export, officials said.

Michael G. Vickers, the Pentagon's top civilian official for
counter-insurgency strategy, said Thursday that the specifics of the
new antidrug effort still needed to be worked out, but that a decision
had been reached on the new focus.

"We are reorienting our counternarcotics strategy rather significantly
for Afghanistan to put much less emphasis on eradication and to shift
the weight of our effort to interdiction," Mr. Vickers said.

The new strategy will "particularly focus on going after those targets
where there is a strong nexus between the insurgency and the narcotics
trade, to deny resources to the Taliban," he told a group of reporters.

Mr. Vickers, who was the principal C.I.A. strategist for arming
anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s, also predicated
that there would be "more focus on other agricultural initiatives" in
the coming year.

One short-term solution being urged by senior Defense Department and
military officials would be to pay Afghan farmers not to plant poppies
in the next growing season.

"To the degree we don't do that, we are at risk for a continuing of
both poppy growth as well as sustaining the insurgency, since profits
go to the Taliban," a senior military official told a small group of
reporters earlier this week.

The official, who asked not to be named because he did not want to be
identified discussing a program still under debate, said he did not
know what such a program would cost the United States. He described it
as a stopgap measure until the United States could put a long-term
agricultural program in place in Afghanistan.

It could take years to supply different seeds and build the new
irrigation systems, transportation routes and markets required to turn
Afghan agriculture away from a poppy economy.

That long-term effort, the official said, includes "a diversity of
crops, irrigation systems" and "government support at every level to
be able to sustain that."

Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for
Afghanistan and Pakistan, briefed allies on the shift last month, and
has said that "the Western policies against the opium crop, the poppy
crop, have been a failure." Allied officials at the recent meeting of
the Group of 8 industrial countries welcomed the change.

Past efforts that focused on eradicating the poppy crop in Afghanistan
"wasted hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars" and "did not
result in any damage to the Taliban - but they put farmers out of work
and they alienated people and drove people into the arms of the
Taliban," Mr. Holbrooke said last month.

Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world's heroin, and the drug
trade is estimated to account for about half of Afghanistan's economy.
Various official estimates say that the Taliban earn as much as $300
million annually from the opium trade. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake