Executive Branch

RSS Feed for this category

Feature: In Strategy Shift, US Troops to Join Battle Against Opium in Afghanistan

The United States military is melding counterinsurgency with counternarcotics missions in Afghanistan in what officials called "a basic strategy shift" in its Afghan campaign. Up until now, the US military has shied away from anti-drug operations in Afghanistan, leaving them to the DEA, the British, and Afghan authorities in a bid to avoid alienating Afghan peasant populations dependent on the poppy crop for an income.

But with Afghan opium production at an all-time high last year and predicted to go even higher this year -- Afghanistan accounted for 92% of the global opium supply in 2006 and will account for close to 100% this year--despite nearly a billion dollars in US anti-drug aid, officials in Washington have decided after long discussion that the Afghan drug war must be ratcheted up.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium_poppy1986_2006.jpg
(source: state.gov/p/inl/rls/rpt/90561.htm)
US officials are increasingly concerned about links between drug traffickers, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda militants, especially in southeastern Afghanistan, where both the insurgency and poppy production are most deeply rooted. Some 70 US soldiers, 69 NATO soldiers, and hundreds of Afghan police and soldiers, Taliban fighters, and Afghan civilians have been killed in fighting so far this year, the third year of the Taliban resurgence.

The new policy was announced in a new report US Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan released last week and rolled out at an August 9 State Department briefing by Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office) head John Walters and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Thomas Schweich.

"We know that opium, maybe second only to terror, is a huge threat to the future of Afghanistan," said Walters. "The efforts by the Afghan people to build institutions of justice and rule of law are threatened not only by the terror, but the drug forces that are both economic, addictive and, of course, support in some cases terror, not only through money, but through influence and moving people away from the structures of government toward the structures of drug mafias and violence," he said.

The new strategy is a combination of carrots and sticks, heavily weighted toward the sticks. Out of the $700 million budgeted for anti-drug activities this year, only about $120 million to $150 million will go to alternative development, with the remainder dedicated to eradication, interdiction, building up the Afghan criminal justice system, and going after high-level traffickers.

Some $30 million will go to farming communities that agree to give up poppy production, but this is a pittance compared to the $3.1 billion the trade is estimated to be worth, or even the roughly $700 million estimated to end up in the hands of peasant farmers. While most of the incentive money will go to the north, where production is down, the more Taliban-friendly east and southeast will get forced eradication and increased efforts to go after high-level traffickers. Ambassador Schweicher qualified the tougher approach as "substantially harsher discincentives" for those areas. And the US military will be involved.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium-smaller.jpg
the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
"There is a clear and direct link between the illicit opium trade and insurgent groups in Afghanistan," the State Department report said. The Pentagon "will work with DEA" and other agencies "to develop options for a coordinated strategy that integrates and synchronizes counternarcotics operations, particularly interdiction, into the comprehensive security strategy."

What exactly that means remains unclear. At the August 9 briefing, Walters dodged repeated questions about the exact nature of US military involvement. "We expect a more permissive environment for these operations, given the plans and commitments here," Walters said. "Again, what -- your question was what counter-narcotics operations is the military going to do. That's not what this is doing, is saying the military is going to become the eradication force or the interdiction force. What we're going to do is create -- we've now created, we believe, the structures to allow counter-narcotics operations, whether they're arrests of people by Afghans, whether they're interdiction, whether they're eradication to be integrated into the security effort that's going on."

It might work, but there are gigantic obstacles in the way, said Raheem Yaseer of the Center for Afghan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Improving the security situation is critical, said Yaseer.

"The bombers and the Talibans are crossing the border from Pakistan with all these weapons and getting across the checkpoints and getting in among the villagers, where they shoot at the allied forces. Then the allies bomb the villages, and that creates a lot of resentment, and the people won't listen to the allies," he said. "The US can track a bullet crossing the border, but they can't find the Talibans," he said, a note of frustration in his voice.

Alternative development could attract peasant farmers if the security situation were stabilized, he said. "It's the bigger warlords and drug lords who are the problem," Yaseer argued. "And yes, there are some high government officials, big shots, involved in drug trafficking, too. All of them have been nourished by this money for years and don't want to see it go away. But ordinary people would be satisfied with a little money because they know growing poppies is condemned by their tradition and religion."

Endemic corruption is another problem. Even anti-drug aid and alternative development assistance is likely to be siphoned off, said Yaseer. "The corruption is very deep, and a lot of money will vanish into people's pockets. You have to watch the people at the top, too, or it won't be effective," he said. "You'll only be spending money uselessly."

Congressional leaders called the new strategy a "welcome recognition" that new initiatives had to be hatched to address the Afghan opium problem, but worried that it wasn't enough. "What the plan lacks is the recognition that Afghanistan is approaching a crisis point, and that immediate action is required to eliminate the threat of drug kingpins and cartels allied with terrorists so we can reverse the country's steady slide into a potential failed narco-state," said House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and ranking minority member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in a statement responding to the new strategy.

Lantos and Ros-Lehtinen aren't the only members of Congress concerned. Others have called for an entirely different approach. Following the lead of the French defense and drug policy think tank the Senlis Council, which has been calling since 2005 for licensing the poppy crop, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) has suggested licensing Afghan farmers to grow the crop for legal pain medications, similar to the way the international community diminished the drug trafficking problem in India and Turkey. Senator John Sununu (R-NH) has suggested the US buy opium crops from the farmers and destroy them. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) has suggested switching the focus away from poor farmers and toward disrupting the cartels that are moving the drugs.

But the drug czar and the State Department explicitly rejected licensing as an impractical "silver bullet" that would not work and have similarly rejected proposals to buy up the crop. And they will definitely be going after poor farmers as well as high-level traffickers.

But more of the same isn't going to do the trick, said the Drug Policy Alliance. "The so-called 'carrot and stick' approach has failed in every country it has been tried in, including our own," said Bill Piper, the group's director of national affairs. "As long as there is a demand for drugs, there will be a supply to meet it. Drug prohibition makes plants more valuable than gold."

More of the same may even make matters worse, Piper argued. "The US is dangerously close to turning Afghanistan into the next Iraq," said Piper. "Forced eradication of opium crops is driving poor Afghans into the hands of our enemies, strengthening the Taliban, and feeding the insurgency there. The war on drugs is undermining the war on terror and pushing Afghanistan to the brink of civil war."

The Bush administration has belatedly figured out it has a very serious problem in Afghanistan. The question now is whether this vigorous new strategy will calm the situation or only inflame it.

Latin America: Massive US-Mexico Counter-Drug Aid Package in the Works

The government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon and the Bush administration are quietly negotiating a drug war aid package that could see a deepening of US involvement south of the border. The negotiations come as drug prohibition-related violence has killed around a thousand people so far this year in Mexico and 3,000 since the beginning of 2006. 2007 is on track to be even bloodier than last year.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mexican-drug-patrol.jpg
Mexican anti-drug patrol
Calderon has responded vigorously to prohibition-related violence since taking office at the end of last year. Currently, more than 20,000 Mexican army troops and federal police are patrolling cities like Monterrey, Tijuana, Acapulco, Mazatlan, and Culiacan, and troops are also out in the fields in drug-producing regions of the country. While the troops have made some well-publicized arrests and drug seizures, the effort has not had a noticeable impact on either the flow of drugs north or in reining in the competing drug trafficking organizations.

Mexican drug organizations make tens of billions of dollars each year funneling cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin north to the insatiable consumer markets in the US. They have used their profits to buy off the police and other public officials who are susceptible, and to buy weapons to fight those who aren't.

According to an account Wednesday in the Christian Science Monitor, the package being discussed "could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars and include everything from Blackhawk helicopters and other sophisticated military equipment to increased training and surveillance capabilities." If that turns out to be the case, it would mean Mexico will be receiving US anti-drug aid at a level before seen only in Colombia.

In fact, the proposed assistance is already being referred to as "Plan Mexico" in some circles, a not so arch reference to Plan Colombia, which, after years of fruitless US spending, finally looks to be cut back by Democrats in Congress this year. Currently, US anti-drug assistance to Mexico stands at about $40 million a year.

Feds Bust Former Portland Police Detective for Medical Marijuana

Location: 
Portland, OR
United States
Publication/Source: 
Salem-News.com (OR)
URL: 
http://www.salem-news.com/articles/august072007/federal_rogues_8707.php

Who Should Be the Next Drug Czar?

We will have a new president in January 2009, and that means we will have a new cabinet as well, including a new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office). Who should the next drug czar be? Do we want another general? Another drug war true believer? (Would that be a job requirement?) A doctor? A public health person? A lawyer? An activist? A politician? The progressive web site The Backbone Campaign is seeking "shadow cabinet" nominations. Anyone can nominate anyone. Here's the list so far for the drug czar position:
Nominee(s): Ethan Nadelmann Dean Becker Tom Hayden Gary Johnson Rep. Maxine Waters Russell Simmons Bill Maher Al Sharpton Keith Stroup
I'd be happy with any of these folks, including our buddy Dean Becker from the Drug Truth Network. I'll also suggest a couple more: Professor Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, co-author of "Drug War Heresies," knows drug policy issues inside and out and is a pretty progressive fellow on these issues. And, of course, in a perfect world, the next drug czar would be Tommy Chong. But I don't know if he could make it through the committee hearings... Who's your nominee?
Location: 
United States

A Peek Inside a Marijuana Dispensary

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
BusinessWeek
URL: 
http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/08/0803_marijuana/index_01.htm

Illegal Crops Creep Into the Suburbs

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Washington Post
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/04/AR2007080401388.html

Feds strike medical pot growers

Location: 
Portland, OR
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Portland Tribune (OR)
URL: 
http://www.localdailynews.com/news/story.php?story_id=118609925649231700#comment_section_container

Southwest Asia: State Department Says US Afghanistan Drug Policy Will Shift, But Not Much

In a meeting last week with "a select group of Washington analysts," Thomas Schweich, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, conceded that US efforts to destroy the Afghan opium industry had achieved only "mixed results" and said that the Bush administration would adjust its policies to be more effective. But Schweich's remarks suggested that any changes would be at the margins.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/afghan-farmers.jpg
Chronicle editor Phil Smith interviewed former opium-growing Afghan farmers outside Jalalabad in fall 2005
Afghanistan last year produced more than 90% of the world's opium, and increased production by 49% to more than 6,700 metric tons. This year's crop is expected to be even larger. Profits from the opium trade are widely believed to fund the resurgent Taliban insurgency, as well as line the pockets of warlords, governors, and government officials. But the crop is also a mainstay of the nation's economy and a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Afghanistan's farmers struggling to feed their families.

In remarks reported by EurasiaNet, a news and information service for Central Asia and the Caucausus operated by the Open Society Institute, Schweich said that it would take at least five years to bring Afghan opium production "under control," but that completely eliminating it would be "impossible." Alternative crops for opium farmers had not been found and proposals to legalize production for the medicinal market were "impractical," he said.

Eradication had been a disappointment, Schweich said, a not surprising admission given large annual increases in the poppy crop in recent years. Schweich implicitly criticized the Afghan government for its limited success in eradication, saying manual and mechanical eradication techniques can at best eliminate 10% of the crop, while Washington wants to see that figure climb to 25%. Washington is itching to use aerial eradication against the poppy crop, but the Karzai government has so far demurred.

Still, he said, the administration's five-point Afghan anti-drug plan was fundamentally correct:

  1. waging an effective public information campaign;
  2. providing opium farmers with alternative and legal opportunities for earning their livelihood;
  3. enhancing the capacity of Afghan law enforcement agencies to prosecute major narco-traffickers through their imprisonment or extradition;
  4. eradicating opium crops; and
  5. interdicting the flow of narcotics within and beyond Afghanistan.

The program is heavy on law enforcement and eradication, an approach that has so far yielded meager results. Since Schweich has already admitted that there are no good alternative crops, it appears US opium policy in Afghanistan will continue to rely on propaganda, some big sticks, and very few carrots.

Law Enforcement: FBI Lowers Bar on Past Marijuana Use by Would-Be Agents

In the midst of a campaign to hire hundreds of new agents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has loosened its policies on past drug use by potential applicants. The old policy, in effect since 1994, disqualified applicants who had smoked marijuana more than 15 times or ever used any illegal drug.

Under the new policy, unannounced but in effect since January, applicants who have not used marijuana for the past three years or for more than just "experimentation" will not be barred. Applicants who have not used any other illegal drug for at least 10 years will not be disqualified, either.

FBI Deputy Director Jeff Berkin told USA Today that the previous system had become "arbitrary" and it was difficult for applicants to pass polygraph tests about drug use because they could not remember how many times they had smoked pot.

"It encourages honesty and allows us to look at the whole person," Berkin said as his agency sought to increase the number of applicants for the 221 agent positions and 121 intelligence analyst positions it has open.

The FBI is only the latest law enforcement agency to amend its policies on past marijuana use. Increasing numbers of departments are reporting problems with applicants being excluded over past pot-smoking, and increasingly, departments are loosening their standards. Even the drug czar's office understands.

"Increasingly, the goal for the screening of security clearance applicants is whether you are a current drug user, rather than whether you used in the past," said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "It's not whether you have smoked pot four times or 16 times 20 years ago. It's about whether you smoked last week and lied about it."

D.C. Drug Policy Softball Team Ranked #1

Just when you thought reformers couldn’t play ball on Capitol Hill:

WASHINGTON, DC – The One Hitters, a softball team sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, took over the #1 ranking in the Congressional Softball League last night. The team’s 13-3 record has vaulted them to the top of the league, which is made up of Congressional offices, lobbying and consulting firms, non-profit organizations, and local businesses. [Dare Generation Diary]

With players from SSDP, MPP, NORML, and of course StopTheDrugWar.org, the One Hitters represent the athletic side of the drug policy reform movement. Opponents who arrive expecting clumsy Cheech & Chong antics get slaughtered and humiliated. It's been a while since the One Hitters surprised anyone, however, since they are now well known throughout the Congressional League for raising hell on the field.

The One Hitters garnered national media coverage two years ago when the Office of National Drug Control Policy started a team and promptly refused a face off. ONDCP's Tom Riley was not at his best attempting to explain why ONDCP was unwilling to challenge the "stoner" softball team:

"I wouldn't think we would play any team that promotes drug use," Riley said, adding, "that includes teams that promote smoking meth or smoking crack." [MAPinc]

A more likely explanation is that ONDCP heard rumors of a severe and inevitable beating if such a game were to take place, and now that the One Hitters have risen to the top of the league, it seems they made the right call. It's too bad though. A picture of sheepish ONDCP staffers sulking off the field would be worth a thousand blog posts.

Location: 
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School

StopTheDrugWar Video Archive