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The "Cabal" That Prevents a Counterdrug Program in Afghanistan

Why is Afghanistan a narco-state? Ambassador Thomas Schweich left the State Department in June and is now at liberty to identify the "cabal":

An odd cabal of timorous Europeans, myopic media outlets, corrupt Afghans, blinkered Pentagon officers, politically motivated Democrats and the Taliban were preventing the implementation of an effective counterdrug program. And the rest of us could not turn them around.

Wow, what a cabal! Only Sean Penn is missing in that list of usual suspects.

Thomas Schweich used to be the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and pressed hard for aerial eradication to wipe out the poppy production in Afghanistan. He considers eradication "an essential component of successful anti-poppy efforts in Guatemala, Southeast Asia and Pakistan."

His 5,500 words long essay in the New York Times Magazine describes in great detail his frustration with the widespread opposition to aerial eradication. The essay's title is "Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?" but deals mainly with the many disagreements within the US government (and with NATO allies).

Schweich blames mainly the Pentagon for lack of understanding and the British military for lack of loyalty:

Some of our NATO allies have resisted the anti-opium offensive, as has our own Defense Department, which tends to see counternarcotics as other people's business to be settled once the war-fighting is over. The trouble is that the fighting is unlikely to end as long as the Taliban can finance themselves through drugs - and as long as the Kabul government is dependent on opium to sustain its own hold on power. (...)

When, through a back channel, I briefed the under secretary of defense for intelligence, James Clapper, on the relationship between drugs and the insurgency, he said he had "never heard any of this." Worse still, Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified to Congress in December 2007 that we did not have a strategy for fighting drugs in Afghanistan. I received a quick apology from the Pentagon counterdrugs unit, which sent a memo to Gates informing him that we actually did have a strategy. (...)

Although Britain's foreign office strongly backed antinarcotics efforts (with the exception of aerial eradication), the British military were even more hostile to the antidrug mission than the U.S. military. British forces - centered in Helmand - actually issued leaflets and bought radio advertisements telling the local criminals that the British military was not part of the anti-poppy effort. I had to fly to Brussels and show one of these leaflets to the supreme allied commander in Europe, who oversees Afghan operations for NATO, to have this counterproductive information campaign stopped.

Interesting is also what Schweich writes about the blunt advice from David J. Kilcullen, a former Australian Army lieutenant colonel with a Ph.D. and currently senior counterinsurgency adviser to the commanding general, Multi-National Force - Iraq:

He recommended mobile courts that had the authority to execute drug kingpins in their own provinces. (You could have heard a pin drop when he first made that suggestion at a large meeting of diplomats.) In support of aerial eradication, Kilcullen pointed out that, with manual eradication you have to "fight your way in and fight your way out" of the poppy fields, making it deadly, inefficient and subject to corrupt bargaining. Aerial eradication, by contrast, is quick, fair and efficient. "If we are already bombing Taliban positions, why won't we spray their fields with a harmless herbicide and cut off their money?" Kilcullen asked.

And on President Karzai:

Karzai was playing us like a fiddle: the U.S. would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure improvement; the U.S. and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai's friends could get rich off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009 he would be elected to a new term.

Read Thomas Schweich's entire essay in the New York Times Magazine.


Related posts in the Atlantic Review:

EU Foreign Policy Chief in Favor of Talks with the Taliban

"America Wrong, Europe Right" on Afghanistan

Three Perspectives on NATO and Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Fighting is Not Most Important

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Pat Patterson on :

The US courts are still dealing with cases of claimed damages from aerial spraying in Vietnam in the 60's and Colombia in the 1980's. Maybe federal attorneys simply held their breath and turned bright blue until they got their way and stopped aerial spraying.

Anonymous on :

No improvement in spraying technology in the last 30 years? Perhaps the German TUV can certify the new sprays as safe ;-)

Pat Patterson on :

I would assume so but much like the fear of drilling for oil in the United States attitudes toward such actions tend to be set once and never mind the facts. For example the US is paying out claims on Agent Orange yet so far the only group that has shown elevated risks of cancer were sailors that never got anywhere near either the spray or the spraying.

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