Sunday, August 15, 2004

Plan Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld was in Afghanistan recently pledging to start a "Plan Colombia" style drug war in the country going as far as implying the 17,000 troops there right now may be sent on heroin eradication missions of the same sort that failed so miserably to stem the tide of cocaine leaving South America. The US is reportedly disatisfied with British led efforts to stem the burgeoning industry. Needless the say the soldiers, already strained in searching for the ever elusive Al Qaeda operatives and attempting to keep order in the chaos building around voter registration there, are not thrilled at the prospect of pissing off the drug lords.

One US soldier in Kandahar said: "We start taking out drug guys, and they will start taking out our guys." Many of the roadside bombs and sporadic guerrilla attacks on US soldiers in southern Afghanistan are already blamed on criminal gangs seeking to spread chaos as well as Taliban insurgents.

And there's not much hope of support from local authorities.

The drugs business is widely believed to have corrupted officials up to cabinet level, and many Afghans fear that they may have exchanged Taliban fundamentalism for rule by narco-mafias in the future.

The US is already late in addressing the problem.

After ignoring the opium trade for two years, the US has been forced to take it seriouslyby growing fears that the Taliban and other terrorist groups are financing their activities from the drugs trade on a large scale for the first time.

I doubt if this is the first time the Taliban has been financing their activities with heroin money, it's just the first time the US was willing to acknowledge it. But that aside, there is one small ray of hope in what is sure to become another failed prohibition attempt, at least the Afghanis are smart enough to avoid the biggest pitfall of Plan Colombia.

Using helicopters to spray poppy fields with chemicals is not likely, however, because of fears that wrecking the livelihoods of farmers could provoke violent rural rebellions against the American-backed Kabul government - a problem the Taliban encountered when it outlawed poppy farming.

And US General Eric Olsen seems to have a realistic handle on the situation.

"Poppy eradication may not be the best way to address the drug issue, there may be better ways to interdict the drug trade," he said.

Whatever that means, at least they won't be bombing the indigineous with herbicides.


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