A Path we need to take to Win in Afghanistan

Sometimes I get ideas for blog posts, I talk them over with people, formulate how I would write the blog in my head and then sometimes start a draft of them with plans to finish them later. Well on this occasion I have been passionately talking about how the approach should be in regards to fighting the drug problem in Afghanistan, and I waited a few days too long.

Back in April I started reading the book “Seeds of Terror” after it was sent to me by the publisher for review. This book along with my own insight and and experiences started shaping my opinion on the right way to deal with the opium cultivation in Afghanistan.

About a week after starting this book I was offered the opportunity to take part in a BBC round-table with the NATO Secretary-General at the time. This was on the BBC show, “World Have Your Say”. During the show, I had an opportunity to ask the Secretary-General about how NATO is dealing with the opium problem in Afghanistan. You can listen to the segment below, but the jest of what he said was “Not our job”. He then asked me what I would do about it, and I referred him to the fact that US Army is deploying the National Guard Agricultural Development Teams (ADT) into Afghanistan to help farmers with how they grow crops and show them alternatives to growing poppy. The Secretary-General then told me how he ran into one of the teams when he was in Ghazni and how he was impressed by them.

Click Below to listen to BBC Interview

BBC World Have your Way discussion between Bouhammer and the NATO Secretary-General

Needless to say I did not get the answer I wanted from him, which was for NATO to step up and do more in this area since they are not that involved in the kinetic fight. I mean if they aren’t going to chase down and kill bad guys then they could at least go after the drugs.

Since that time I have had repeated conversations with friends like Mike T, Clayton (The Hero Maker) Merwin, and many others about this issue. In fact my good friend Scott Kesterson and I have had several conversations about the way forward in Afghanistan and even though we agree on most approaches, we don’t necessarily agree 100% on dealing with the drug issue.

The main points of my argument in dealing with the drugs is not to go after the farmers, who are just trying to make a living and provide for their family. They will grow whatever they can that brings in the most money, and unfortunately that is poppy and always has been. If Coalition forces go into a farmer’s property and wipe out his crops, then it will just piss off the farmer and turn him to the enemy. There are also other farmers waiting for the chance to replace the farmer who was just taken out by the poppy eradication. So going after the farmer is not the silver bullet answer. However deploying ADT teams and using them to empower the farmer and show him alternative crops is part of the answer.

The real answer and focus in my opinion is to go after the middle-man, the buyer, the guy who pays the farmer, puts the poppies into a jingle-truck and moves them to a opium factory which turns the poppy into black-tar heroin. If we take out the man with the cash and he doesn’t show up anymore to buy the poppies from the farmer then the farmer will not be as motivated to grow it anymore. He will be m ore apt to switch to other positive crops. The middle-man (the drug trafficker)  is also the one who is moving the heroin by the tons across the borders of Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and other bordering countries. This movement by vehicle is what gets “taxed” by the Taliban and is where they make a lot of their money.

Since we can’t go into Pakistan, Iran and the other countries and take out the labs that are turning this drug into a human-usable product, then we must get them before they cross the border. We must also get the “most bang for our buck”, by using our resources (soldiers, technologies, etc.) to get the largest amounts of opium and heroin at one time. These large amounts are going to be the jingle trucks loaded with pure opium or black-tar heroin that are being moved to the border.

This is the main-stay of my argument. Don’t go after the poor farmer who is just trying to get a little scratch like everyone else in that country, go after the guys that are paying him. Go after the guys who are collecting it (opium) all up, go after the guys who are being taxed by the Taliban and is providing our enemies the funds to continue their fight.

In my humble opinion there is no one way to winning the war in Afghanistan, but instead there are several main paths we should take and going after the source of funds that our enemies enjoy is one of those main paths. Many of the fighters we engage in the country are not Al-Qaeda or hardcode Taliban, they are people trying to make a buck and right now the enemy pays pretty well. The poor fighters that try to attack us, plant the IEDs, and are usually killed by us are not going to do it for an I.O.U.

So at the start of this long blog I talked about how I get ideas and when I decide to write a blog post. On this topic I had been procrastinating and had just not sat down to do it yet, and because of that I came up a day late, and a dollar short. Two days ago the US Government announced a new policy in dealing with the opium problem in Afghanistan and when I read it I thought “dammit, that is what I have been saying for months, why didn’t I write that back then”.

The quote below came from the story here, www.csmonitor.com/2009/0628/p99s01-duts.html

The United States is changing course on anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, a senior official said Saturday, shifting its focus from the destruction of opium poppies to fighting drug traffickers and promoting non-narcotic crops among Afghan farmers who depend on the poppy harvest for survival.

Many analysts criticized the old policy for ignoring the economic logic that draws Afghan farmers to opium production, and said destroying their crops was no way to win their hearts and minds.

Opium is used to make heroin, and although Afghan production has dropped 19 percent in the past year, it still produces 93 percent of the world supply, according to the Associated Press. Most of that production happens in the south, where support for the Taliban is highest, generating between $50 and $70 million annually for the group, according to UN estimates.

Poppy eradication has been a tenet of US policy in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. But speaking to reporters at a G8 summit on Afghanistan in Italy on Saturday, US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke called it “a waste of money,” says the AP.

This new strategy is all over the MSM and I could just kick myself for not having my opinion out there sooner. Either way, I know what I have been saying and so do those who’s ears I have been bending about the topic. I truly feel this is the right way, now I just hope our government provides the right tools, resources, and guidance to our military so they can do it correctly.

4 thoughts on “A Path we need to take to Win in Afghanistan”

  1. Good to hear that the “official” plan also garners your endorsement as both logical and “workable” – not some “pie in the sky” ineffective approach.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Keep us updated on your ongoing discussions with the high muckety-types 🙂
    .-= Jane Rodmyre Payfer´s last blog ..Halfway Home =-.

  2. Good points. I was reading Sarah Chayes’s book, “The Punishment of Virtue,” and she echoes some of the same. I’ll be doing a piece on her alternative Opium growing efforts and her small Afghan company called Arghan, which sells hand crafted products from the region. Body oils, silks, etc.

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