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Europe: European Parliament Committee Calls for Pilot Project on Medicinal Opium in Afghanistan

The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee last week called on the European Union council of ministers to prepare a plan for the Afghan government that would include a possible pilot project to turn part of that country's illicit opium poppy crop into legal opium-based medicines. The call echoes a proposal first made by the European drugs and development think tank Senlis Council in 2005.

With some 30,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, dealing with the Afghan opium situation is a high priority for European states. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan now produces 93% of the world's opium, and production is at record levels this year. Some of the profits from the opium trade are widely believed to end up in the hands of the Taliban, which the NATO troops, along with US and Afghan troops, are trying to defeat.

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Marco Cappato at DRCNet's 2003 conference in Mexico
In a report drafted by Italian Member of the European Parliament Marco Cappato and adopted by the committee on a 33-8 vote with 23 abstentions on September 12, the committee noted that "insurgents, warlords, the Taliban and terrorist groups are obtaining their major source of funding through trade in illicit narcotics," thereby jeopardizing the political stability and economic development of Afghanistan.

The committee called on the Council to examine "the possibility of pilot projects for small-scale conversion of parts of the current illicit poppy cultivation into fields for the production of legal opium-based analgesics." The committee also called for rural development measures and for "carefully and selectively engaging in manual eradication" of opium poppies.

Finally, the committee report called for the Council to submit to the Afghan government a "comprehensive plan and strategy aimed at controlling drug production in Afghanistan", by "tackling corruption at the highest levels of the Afghan administration," especially the Ministry of the Interior.

Such proposals are unlikely to sit well with Washington, which has rejected any opium-into-medicine scheme as unworkable and which is ratcheting up the pressure for aerial eradication by arguing that manual eradication has not been successful.

Prohibition: Terror Groups Profit From Drugs, DEA Says -- Missing Forest For Trees

Nearly half of the groups officially listed by the US government as foreign terrorist organizations fund their activities through drug trafficking, a top DEA official said Sunday. Nothing is more profitable for terrorist organizations than drugs, said Michael Braun, the DEA's assistant administrator, speaking at a conference on "The Global Impact of Terrorism" in Israel.

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misleading DEA traveling exhibit on drugs and terrorism
The DEA has "linked 18 of the 42 officially designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) to drug trafficking activities of some sorts," Braun said. The resort to financing political violence through drug trafficking profits is a result of receding state support for terrorism, Braun said, as well as the fact that Al Qaeda has "shifted from a corporate structure to a franchise structure," making its affiliates pay their own way.

Money from the illegal drug trade is funding the FARC in Colombia and the Shining Path in Peru, Maoist rebels in India, and Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, while various Islamic groups on the terror list are also suspected of profiting from hash and heroin.

With an illicit drug trade estimated at $322 billion annually by the United Nations, the black market dollars are an irresistible source of income for such groups, which may then morph into something resembling traditional drug trafficking organizations. Braun pointed to the FARC, which originated in the 1960s as a leftist guerrilla army as "the case study for this evolution," and estimated its annual revenue from the drug trade at between $500 million and $1 billion each year.

"That's what the Taliban are doing now in Afghanistan," said Braun. "They are taxing farmers, but we have indications that they started providing security. That's what happened to the FARC 15 years ago," he added. "We'll have to deal with more and more hybrid" organizations in the future, Braun told the conference in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. "When your job takes you to the swamps to hunt snakes, you can end up taking crocs too -- they live in the same place."

What Braun did not say is that this lucrative source of funding for political violence around the world could be effectively dried up by repealing the current global drug prohibition regime enshrined in the UN drug conventions. It is, after all, illicit drugs' status as a prohibited commodity that both makes them extremely valuable and leaves them to be trafficked by violent criminals.

DEA Agent Admits The Drug War Funds Terrorism

Well, not exactly. But it sure is astounding to hear DEA lament the black market's role in funding terror:
Nearly half of the 42 groups considered by the United States to be terror organisations fund their activities through drug trafficking, a top US official said in Israel Sunday.

The Drug Enforcement Administration's Michael Braun told a conference on "The Global Impact of Terrorism", organised by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, that the DEA "linked 18 of the 42 officially designated Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTO) to drug trafficking activities of some sorts." [Yahoo News]
If there's anything surprising about this, it is the fact that Braun wants to continue the exact policies that make it possible for violent groups to make fast money.

Drug profits are being funneled into numerous terrorist organizations and the people who failed to prevent this sort of thing are instead citing it as evidence that their work is more important than ever.

No. It is 2007. You people have had enough time to try your idea. Clearly, you were wrong about everything. Rather than experiment with news ways of describing the same wrong ideas, it is time for these brave gentlemen to step aside and open up the floor to suggestions. Mine is to de-fund terrorists and countless other jerks by ending the drug war that makes them so damned rich.
Location: 
United States

Feature: As Afghan Opium Production Goes Through the Roof, Pressure for Aerial Eradication, Increased Western Military Involvement Mounts

To no one's surprise, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced last week that Afghan opium production had reached another record high. The announcement comes against a background of continued high levels of violence between Taliban insurgents reinvigorated in part by the infusion of drug trade money and combined US/NATO/Afghan forces as the insurgency continues to regenerate itself.

The increase in poppy production is lending heft to increasingly shrill calls by the Americans to respond with a massive -- preferably aerial -- poppy eradication campaign. Now, there are signs the Karzai government's firm opposition to aerial spraying is weakening. But US foreign policy, Afghanistan, and drugs and conflict experts contacted by Drug War Chronicle all said such a campaign would be counterproductive -- at best.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
According to UNODC's Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007, the extent of the poppy crop increased 17% this year over 2006, with nearly 450,000 acres under cultivation. But opium production was up 34% over last year's 6,100 tons, a figure UNODC attributed to better weather conditions, with total opium production this year estimated at what the UNODC called "an extraordinary" 8,200 tons of opium.

Afghanistan now supplies around 93% of the world's opium, up just a bit from last year's estimated 92%.

The UNODC reported that the number of opium-free provinces had increased from six last year to 13 this year. It noted that production had diminished in center-north Afghanistan, where Northern Alliance warlords reign supreme, but had exploded in the east and southeast -- precisely those areas where the Taliban presence is strongest. Half of the world supply comes from a single Afghan province, Helmand in the southeast, where, not coincidentally, the Taliban has managed to "control vast swathes of territory" despite the efforts of NATO and Afghan troops to dislodge it.

"Opium cultivation is inversely related to the degree of government control," said UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa in a statement accompanying the report's release. "Where anti-government forces reign, poppies flourish. The Afghan opium situation looks grim, but it is not yet hopeless," he added.

Costa called on the Afghan government and the international community to make a more determined effort to fight the "twin threats" of opium and insurgency, including more rewards for farmers or communities that abandon the poppy and more sanctions on those who don't, as well as attacking the prohibition-related corruption that makes the Karzai government as complicit in the opium trade as any other actor. [Ed: Costa of course didn't use the word prohibition -- but he should have.]

He also called for NATO to get more involved in counter-narcotics operations, something it has been loathe to do. "Since drugs are funding insurgency, Afghanistan's military and its allies have a vested interest in destroying heroin labs, closing opium markets and bringing traffickers to justice. Tacit acceptance of opium trafficking is undermining stabilization efforts," he said.

But this week, NATO appeared unmoved. "We are doing the best we can, we would ask others to do more," NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Operations Jim Pardew told a Brussels news conference Wednesday. "The fight against narcotics is first and foremost an Afghan responsibility but they need help."

NATO spokesman James Appathurai added that: "NATO is not mandated to be an eradication force, nor is it proposed. Eradication is one part of a complex strategy."

NATO's reticence is in part due to rising casualties. So far this year, 82 NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the I-Casualties web site, which tracks US and allied forces killed and wounded in both Iraq and Afghanistan. That's along with 82 US soldiers, at least 500 Afghan National Police, numerous Afghan Army soldiers, hundreds -- if not thousands -- of insurgents, and hundreds of civilians.

In all of last year, 98 US and 93 NATO troops were killed; in 2005, 99 US and 31 NATO troops were killed; and in 2004, only 52 US and six NATO soldiers died. The trend line is ominous, and with public support for intervening in the opium war weak in Europe and Canada, NATO reluctance to get more deeply involved reflects political reality at home.

It's not the same with the US government. Less than a month ago, and anticipating a record crop this year, the government released its US Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan. The strategy called for integrating counterinsurgency and counternarcotics, a resort to mass eradication, and the increased use of the US military in the battle against the poppy.

"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."

Bush administration officials have long pushed for aerial eradication, and the UNODC report has added fuel to the flames. On Sunday, Afghan first vice-president Ahmed Zia Massoud broke with President Karzai to call for a more "forceful approach" to tackle the poppies "that have spread like cancer," as he and Karzai both have put it. "We must switch from ground based eradication to aerial spraying," he wrote in the London Sunday Telegraph.

But the British government begs to differ. Senior Foreign Office officials dismissed such calls, saying "it is difficult to envisage circumstances where the benefits of aerial eradication outweigh the disadvantages."

The Karzai government, while apparently now split on whether to okay aerial spraying, is turning up the pressure on the West to do more. On Monday, the Afghan government announced it had formally asked NATO and US forces to clear Taliban fighters from opium-growing areas before Afghan troops move in to eradicate.

"For a new plan for this year, we've requested that the foreign military forces go and conduct military operations to enable us to eradicate poppy crops," Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said at a Monday press conference. "In areas where there's insecurity, we need strong military support to be able to eradicate poppy fields. Police can't eradicate poppies and fight insurgents at the same time," he said.

That request came on the heels of criticism of the West last week from President Karzai himself. He accused the international community of dropping the ball when it came to counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, noting pointedly that where his government had control, poppy production had dropped.

UNODC head Costa Wednesday kept up the pressure, telling that Brussels news conference: "There is very strong pressure building up in favor of aerial eradication in that part of Afghanistan. The government has not decided yet and we will support the government in whatever it decides to do," he said.

But while aerial spraying and increased US and NATO military involvement in the anti-poppy campaign look increasingly probable, that route is paved with obstacles, according to the experts consulted by the Chronicle.

"The change in the Afghan position is a direct response to the US upping the pressure on the Karzai government to adopt a Colombian-style model of aerial eradication," said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "Until very recently, the Karzai government really resisted that because they understood this will antagonize a good many Afghan farmers, but when you are the client of a powerful patron, the pressure is difficult to resist."

While massive eradication may indeed have some impact on the opium trade, it will come at a "horrific cost," said Carpenter. "That will drive farmers into the hands of the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies, which is absolutely the last thing we need in pressing the war against Islamic terrorism," he said. "Afghanistan was hailed as a great success as recently as two years ago, but now it's looking very dicey, the security situation is deteriorating rapidly, and a massive eradication campaign will only make it worse."

"Eradication was stronger this year than last, but it still amounted to almost nothing," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in drugs, insurgencies, and counterinsurgencies. "So now, the pressure for aerial eradication is almost at fever pitch. But there is real debate about whether this would really achieve anything or end up being counterproductive. I think it would be a disaster," she said, citing the now familiar reasons of humanitarian problems and increasing support for the Taliban.

When asked to comment by the Chronicle, Barnett Rubin, Director of Studies and Senior Fellow at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, pointed to his blog posts at Informed Comment Global Affairs. Calling eradication "the most photogenic tool" in counter-narcotics strategy, Rubin wrote that he was often forced to point out that: "The international drug trade is not caused by Afghan farmers."

The key problem is not drugs, Rubin argued, but drug money, which finances the insurgency and corrupts government forces. Embarking on a campaign of eradication does not effectively go after the drug money, he wrote, because 80% of it goes to traffickers. And it will increase the value of poppy crops, making them more attractive to farmers.

"More forcible eradication at this time," Rubin wrote, "when both interdiction and alternative livelihoods are barely beginning, will increase the economic value of the opium economy, spread cultivation back to areas of the country that have eliminated or reduced it, and drive more communities into the arms of the Taliban."

US policy is being driven less by what will work in Afghanistan than by domestic political concerns, Felbab-Brown said. "With presidential elections coming up, Afghanistan is going to be a political issue. The question Democrats will ask is 'Who lost Afghanistan'? Thus, there is a real incentive for the Republicans to demonstrate results in some way, and the easiest way is with aerial spraying. This is a classic case of policy being dominated by politics," she said.

"Lost in all the politics is the fact that eradication has never worked in the context of military conflict," Felbab-Brown noted. "It only comes after peace has been achieved, whether through repression, as in the Maoist model, through alternative development, or through eradication and interdiction. Since the security situation in Afghanistan is not improving, it is very unlikely eradication will work. Karzai likes to talk about drugs as a cancer afflicting Afghanistan, but by embracing aerial eradication, we are prescribing the treatment that kills the patient," she said.

"Counter-narcotics efforts will not be successful until security improves," said Felbab-Brown. "That's the priority, and that will require various components, one of which is inevitably more troops on the ground." But she said she sees no political will for such a move in NATO or in the US. "As a result of Iraq, there is no will to increase troops in this vitally important theater, so I am very skeptical about the prospects for that," she said.

"The situation is growing grimmer and grimmer, and the US response has been to move in the wrong direction," she summarized. "Now, it appears the train has left the station, and the voices that tried to stop it are falling by the wayside. American Afghan policy is being held hostage to domestic political concerns."

"Nobody has a good answer for Afghanistan," said Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann, who recently published an article calling for the creation of a global vice district there. "The question is what are the choices? One, we can keep doing what we're doing, which is not accomplishing anybody's objectives. Two, we could embark on an aggressive aerial eradication campaign, which would be a humanitarian disaster and push people into the hands of the Taliban," he said, summarizing the most likely policy options to occur.

"Three, there is outright legalization, but that isn't on anybody's political horizon," Nadelmann continued. "Four, there is the notion of just buying up the opium. That might work for a year or so, but it would almost inevitably become a sort of price support system with the country producing twice as much the following year. There's no reason why farmers wouldn't sell some to us and some to the underground; it would only inject another buyer into the market."

Finally, said Nadelmann, there is the Senlis Council proposal to license opium production for the licit medicinal market. "The Senlis proposal is an interesting idea, but there are a lot of issues with it, including the question of whether there really is a global shortage of opiate pain medications. It is good that Senlis put that provocative idea out there, but the question is whether it is workable," Nadelmann said.

There is another option, he explained. "Let's just accept opium as a global commodity," he said, "and let's think of Afghanistan as the global equivalent of a local red light district. It has all sorts of natural advantages in opium production -- it's a low-cost producer and there is a history of opium growing there. With global opium production centered almost exclusively in Afghanistan, as it is now, there is less likelihood it will pop up somewhere else, possibly with even more negative consequences," he argued.

"We are not talking about a place with a vacuum of authority that fosters terrorism, but a regulated activity serving a global market that cannot be eradicated or suppressed, as we know from a hundred years of history," Nadelmann continued. "We have to accept the fact that it will continue to be grown, but we should manipulate the market to ensure that the US, NATO, and the Karzai government advance their economic, political, and security objectives."

While the notion may sound shocking, the US government has historically been unafraid of working with criminal elements when it served its interests, whether it was heroin traffickers in Southeast Asia or the docks of Marseilles or cocaine traffickers during the Central American wars of the 1980s or Afghan rebels growing poppies during the war against the Soviets. "We've gotten in bed with organized criminals and warlords throughout our history when it served our objectives," Nadelmann noted.

Such a move would not require public pronouncements, Nadelmann said; in fact, quite the opposite. "Bush wouldn't come out and declare a policy shift, but you just sort of quietly allow it to happen, just as during the Cold War you made deals with strongmen because you were pursuing a more important objective. There have to be moral limits, of course, but to the extent you can semi-legitimize it you increase the chance of effectively regulating and controlling it," he said.

"You can call this suggestion Machiavellian," Nadelmann said, "or you can call it simple pragmatism, but given a lot of crummy choices, this could be the least worst."

Latin America: Colombian Admiral Fired in Growing Probe of Military Drug Corruption

A Colombian rear admiral who served along the country's Caribbean coast was removed from his post Monday for alleged links to drug traffickers. Rear Admiral Gabriel Arango is only the latest in a series of military officers investigated in what has become a widening probe of connections between the military and the country's powerful drug trafficking organizations.

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too much trouble over this plant -- just legalize it already
"There is a very advanced investigation currently under way regarding Arango's illegal activity," Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview with RCN Radio. "I cannot deny that the investigation is related to the drug trade and that several other members of the navy appear to be involved."

Arango protested his innocence, pointing to his record in seizing drugs as a naval commander. "Never in my life have I been linked to any drug traffickers," he told Caracol Radio.

It's not just the navy. Colombian prosecutors are currently investigating at least eight army officers for alleged collaboration with the Norte del Valle cartel, the country's most violent drug trafficking organization.

The Colombian military has been the recipient of billions of dollars in US counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency aid under Plan Colombia. But coca and cocaine production have remained relatively steady despite the billions.

That's because there are too many vested interests benefiting from the drug trade and the drug war in Colombia, a now-imprisoned former paramilitary commander told Reuters this week. Salvatore Mancuso, former leader of the murderous Northern Bloc paramilitary drug trafficking organization who surrendered in a sweetheart deal in 2004, said those vested interests include politicians and military officers who collude with drug smugglers, contractors connected to a multibillion-dollar US anti-narcotics program, and companies that sell chemicals used to process cocaine.

"As long as there is a conflict in Colombia, all this will flourish," Mancuso predicted. "We have to cut off the guerrillas' oxygen supply, and that oxygen supply is cocaine."

Mancuso, whose sweetheart sentence is now threatened by a Colombian Supreme Court ruling demanding harsher treatment of those who killed innocents in their fight with leftist guerrillas, is not a disinterested observer. He is now offering his anti-cocaine strategy and services to the US government, undoubtedly in hopes of getting a US indictment for drug trafficking dropped.

Mancuso's prescriptions sound familiar, too. "First we need all-out coca eradication. Second a coherent plan for security and a state presence in these rural areas," Mancuso said. "Then there has to be social and economic development for each community."

Meanwhile, drug prohibition and Colombia's drug war drag on, and those in a position to profit are doing so.

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.

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(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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Southwest Asia: Afghan Poppy Crop Sets New Record, US Ambassador Says

The Afghan opium poppy crop will set a new record this year, US Ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood said Tuesday. The crop is set to exceed last year's record harvest despite more intensive efforts to combat the trade, he conceded.

According to Wood, preliminary data show that Afghan farmers harvested 457,000 acres of opium poppy this year. That's up from the 407,000 acres planted last year. Opium is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring and early summer.

Last year, Afghanistan accounted for 92% of the global opium supply. In 1997, the country accounted for only 52%, and it accounted for 70% in 2000, before the Taliban banned it in 2001. Thanks to high yields from Afghan opium, the global opium supply reached more than 6,600 metric tons last year, up a whopping 43% over 2005. There will be even more this year.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Heroin manufactured from Afghan opium is now finding its way into the veins of junkies from London to Lahore and Turin to Tehran to Tashkent. It is now also reportedly beginning to show up on the West Coast of North America, providing competition for the Mexican and Colombian poppy-producers who have historically supplied most heroin for the US market.

Volatile southern Helmand province, where US and NATO troops are engaged in a fierce guerrilla war with Taliban insurgents, alone produced nearly 212,000 acres of poppies, almost half the national total.

Afghan government-led opium eradication efforts managed to destroy about 49,000 acres of poppies, or a little more than one-tenth of the total crop, Wood said. He called the results of the eradication effort "disappointing."

"I think there is growing recognition both nationally and internationally of the importance of the illicit narcotics trade and the threat it poses," he said, adding that he is a firm believer in forced eradication. "We need to remove drug cultivation as an option, both because it threatens security and governance and stability in Afghanistan and because the product of drug cultivation is taking lives inside of Afghanistan and outside of Afghanistan through addiction and other criminal activity," he said. "Drugs, because of their value are like diamonds," Wood continued. "They are small, they are high value, they are easily transportable, and no one has ever found a successful way to stop people from picking diamonds up from the ground and trying to sell them. If the diamonds are on the ground, people will try to pick them up and try to sell them. So you've got to eradicate them from the ground," Wood said.

Good luck selling that to the Afghan farmers, opium traders, gunmen-for-hire, Taliban insurgents, and government officials making a living off the thriving black market in opium under the global drug prohibition regime.

Latin America: Colombia Coca Production Up Again Despite Massive Eradication Efforts

The US government reported Monday that the amount of land under coca cultivation in Colombia had increased for the third straight year. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), cultivation increased 9% last year to some 388,500 acres despite a massive aerial herbicide spraying campaign.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
While ONDCP did not report on the 2006 figures until Monday, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe announced the findings at the end of a long speech last Friday, in an apparent bid to inoculate both governments from criticism that US drug policy in the region is ineffective and counterproductive. Uribe arrived in Washington Wednesday, primarily to urge the passage of a bilateral trade agreement, but also to press for continued US assistance.

"Yesterday [last Thursday] they told me they were worried about revealing this number because of my upcoming trip to the United States, that the Americans should reveal it," he said. "But that's why I'm revealing it. We're not trying to put makeup on what is a serious matter. We've unleashed a battle with all our will and all our determination," Uribe said. "Could it be we've worked in vain? That all our work hasn't produced the desired results?"

The US has spent more than $5 billion and sprayed more than 2.1 million acres of Colombian farmland since 2000 in a failed effort to eradicate Colombian cocaine production. More precisely, Plan Colombia called for coca production to be halved within five years, but according to the latest estimates, Colombia is producing 27% more coca than in 1999, the year before the plan went into effect. The long-term trends toward decreasing cocaine price and increasing purity also suggest that all the billions have little impact on cocaine availability.

In its Monday press release, ONDCP did its best to spin the disappointing results. "Statistically, there was no change" in coca production, ONDCP claimed two sentences before noting a 33,000-acre increase in the area under cultivation. Coca growers' creative responses to eradication efforts -- moving to smaller plots, moving to areas off limits to the spraying program, rapidly reconstituting sprayed crops -- created "major challenges" for arriving at a reliable estimate, ONDCP explained.

"Rather than weaken farmers' reliance on coca, fumigation serves to reinforce it," said Washington Office on Latin America Senior Associate John Walsh. "To insist at this point that more spraying will somehow deter farmers from replanting is not just unrealistic, it's delusional."

That's a sentiment that is also being heard in the halls of Congress these days. On Tuesday, the House subcommittee that oversees foreign aid proposed major changes in US anti-drug policy in Colombia. Under that proposal, funding to the Colombian military would be cut by $150 million and an additional $100 million would be redirected to boost economic development and boost the judicial system.

If the proposal championed by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) succeeds, the military's share of US assistance would drop from 80% to 55%. But Colombia would still remain the third largest recipient of US foreign aid behind the Middle East and Afghanistan.

"I have long felt that our policies in Colombia were ineffective and misguided," Lowey told the Associated Press Wednesday. "My proposal would realign the funding to more of an even split."

Everyone Profits at Helmand's Drug Bazaar--The poppy harvest is in and everyone from the Taliban to local government officials is cooperating to get the opium crop to market.

Location: 
HEL
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
ISN Security Watch
URL: 
http://www.isn.ethz.ch/news/sw/details.cfm?ID=17699

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