The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
Why America Supports Afghan Drug Gangs
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
May 21, 2004
One of the major supporters of terrorist organizations are illegal drug gangs. Itís not that the manufacturers and distributors of cocaine and heroin are big fans of al Qaeda or other terrorists. No, itís the other way around, the terrorists realize that a relatively easy (for ruthless and heavily armed terrorists) way to make money is via the illegal drug trade. Al Qaeda members have been caught dealing drugs many times, and the Taliban basically ran a protection racket for the heroin producers in Afghanistan until 2001. But while the Taliban is out of power in Afghanistan, the drug gangs are still operating. And the Taliban, and al Qaeda, are using the drug trade to maintain themselves in the region. The drug gangs, and the tribes that often sponsor them, are generating about $1.5 billion a year in Afghanistan. Thatís about half the nationís GDP. While most of the drug gangs donít want to get involved in Holy War, and risk a visit from American Special Forces and smart bombs, they will fight to stay in business, and will do business with Taliban or al Qaeda if it suits their purposes. Al Qaeda and the Taliban want to run Afghanistan once more, and they help the drug gangs because the gangs want to keep the Afghan government weak.
The United States, obviously, has an interest in weakening the drug gangs. Yet there are only three American DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agents in Afghanistan. But thatís not the only problem. The Afghan government is trying to get farmers to grow legitimate crops instead of poppies (used to make heroin). The problem is that growing poppies brings in 30 or more times the cash as growing wheat. Many poppy farmers could grow cotton, but the American subsidy program for U.S. cotton growers rules out the United States being a buyer of this crop. One American agricultural expert noted that grapes were grown in many parts of Afghanistan, and that he had come across locally produced wine. But it was pointed out that the wine was the Afghan equivalent of moonshine (ie, illegal booze in an Islamic country) and that the grapes were mainly† exported as raisins (which brought in less money than poppies.)
The Afghan government has tried paying the farmers to not grow poppies, but there was not enough foreign aid for that, and some of the farmers took the money and grew poppies anyway. For a short time, the Taliban managed to stop most poppy production by applying force, but the Taliban were soon overthrown, partly because of the anger at their anti-poppy campaign.
The United States, other Western nations and Afghanistanís neighbors are all demanding that the poppy growing (and subsequent production of opium and heroin) be stopped. While most of the heroin ends up in the wealthier countries, thereís so much opium and heroin being produced in Afghanistan that itís cheap enough for people in Pakistan, Iran and other neighboring countries to buy, and get addicted to.
As long as the Afghan government tries to use force against the poppy growing tribes, many of the tribes will resist. This is where al Qaeda and Taliban gunmen get involved, by fighting the government and getting paid by the drug tribes for their efforts. This gambit has been used by rebel movements in many other areas. A marriage of convenience. However, if you apply sufficient force, you can stop the poppy growing. But in Afghanistan, that approach is more likely to backfire. The tribes are used to fighting, over a long period, to defend what they believe is theirs. So the Afghan government is left with the unpalatable option of working out a deal with the drug tribes (ďweíll pretend weíre trying to but you out of business, and youíll pretend to resist while also having nothing to do with the Taliban and al Qaeda.") This approach would be very unpopular in the United States and Europe, at least from the drug angle. But it would cripple Taliban and al Qaeda efforts to cash in on the drug business. No easy choices, no matter what you do.