In July 2007, I briefed President Karzai on the drive for a new strategy. He was interested in the new incentives that we were developing, but became sullen and unresponsive when I discussed the need to balance those incentives with new disincentives — including arrests of high-level traffickers and eradication of poppy fields in the wealthier areas of the Pashtun south, where Karzai had his roots and power base.
Karzai himself may or may not be a narcotrafficker.
But, if there is pressure to end narcotics production and trafficking, that will impact immediately and severely on Karzai's powerbase -- and might that spark a new Afghan civil war, a free-for-all as various factions square off to preserve their slices of the heroin pie?
The opiate trade isn't the only pie up for grabs, either.
We also tried to let the public know about the changing dynamics of the trade. Unfortunately, most media outlets clung to the myth that the problem was out of control all over the country, that only desperate farmers grew poppies and that any serious law-enforcement effort would drive them into the hands of the Taliban. The "starving farmer" was a convenient myth. It allowed some European governments to avoid involvement with the antidrug effort. Many of these countries had only one- or two-year legislative mandates to be in Afghanistan, so they wanted to avoid any uptick in violence that would most likely result from an aggressive strategy, even if the strategy would result in long-term success. The myth gave military officers a reason to stay out of the drug war, while prominent Democrats used the myth to attack Bush administration policies. And the Taliban loved it because their propaganda campaign consisted of trotting out farmers whose fields had been eradicated and having them say that they were going to starve.
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.
Not committed to victory, committed to doing their time and getting out -- doesn't that remind me of another counterinsurgency we fought?
Nonetheless, we stayed hopeful as we worked on what became the U.S. Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan. The Defense Department was initially cooperative (as I testified to Congress). We agreed to expand the local meetings and education campaign that worked well in the north. Afghan religious leaders would issue anti-poppy statements, focusing on the anti-Islamic nature of drugs and the increasing addiction rate in Afghanistan. In the area of agricultural incentives, since most farmers already had an alternative crop, we agreed to improve access to markets not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and the wider region. USAid would establish more cold-storage facilities, build roads and establish buying cooperatives that could guarantee prices for legal crops. With the British, we developed an initiative to reward provinces that became poppy-free or reduced their poppy crop by a specified amount. Governors who performed well would get development projects: schools, bridges and hospitals.
But there had to be disincentives too. We agreed to provide security for manual poppy eradication, so that we could show the Afghan people that the more-powerful farmers were vulnerable. We focused on achieving better ground-based eradication, but reintroduced the possibility of aerial eradication. We agreed to increase D.E.A. training of counternarcotics police and establish special investigative units to gather physical and documentary evidence against corrupt Afghan officials. And we developed policies that would increase the Afghan capacity to prosecute traffickers.
We might try some of that in D.C.
Adding to the wave of optimism was the arrival of William Wood as the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. He had been ambassador in Colombia, so he understood drugs and insurgency well. His view was that poppy cultivation was illegal in Afghanistan, so he didn't really care whether the farmers were poor or rich. "We have a lot of poor people in the drug trade in the U.S.A. — people mixing meth in their trailers in rural areas and people selling crack in the inner cities — and we put them in jail," he said.
What an unenlightened viewpoint! (Gasp!)
At first Wood advocated — in an unclassified e-mail message, surprisingly — a massive aerial-eradication program that would wipe out 80,000 hectares of poppies in Helmand Province, delivering a fatal blow to the root of the narcotics problem. "If there is no poppy, there is nothing to traffic," Wood said. The plan looked good on paper, but we knew it would be impossible to sell to Karzai and the Pentagon. Wood eventually agreed to language advocating, at a minimum, force-protected ground-based eradication with the possibility of limited aerial eradication.
Another ally for a more aggressive approach to the problem was David Kilcullen, a blunt counterterrorism expert. He became increasingly concerned about the drug money flowing to the Taliban. He noted that, while Afghans often shift alliances, what remains constant is their respect for strength and consistency. 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.
The problem is, it isn't just the Taliban's money that would be cut off. From Cracking the Case: An Interview With Sibel Edmonds by Scott Horton, August 22, 2005:
SH: And as you pointed [out], some of this information has been confirmed in the public. I know when you speak about the Iranian informant...
SH: ...who warned in April of 2001 -- that was even confirmed by Mueller, the director of the FBI.
SE: Absolutely there was actually an article in the Chicago Tribune in July 2004 saying that even Mueller expressed surprise that during the hearings, the commissioners didn't ask about this. And guess what, nobody reported all these omissions. What would happen if you hit them with 20 cases? And I'm talking about 20 affidavits from experts and veteran agents.
SH: This is all about the question of prior knowledge and who knew what, when before the attack.
SE: And also what happened afterward. I started working three days after Sept. 11 with a lot of documents and wiretaps that I was translating. Some of them dated back to 1997, 1998. Even after Sept. 11, covering up these investigations and not pursuing some of these investigations because the Department of State says, "You know what, you can't pursue this because that may deal with this particular country. If this country that the investigation deals with are not one of the Axis of Evil, we don't want to pursue them." The American people have the right to know this. They are giving this grand illusion that there are some investigations, but there are none. You know, they are coming down on these charities as the finance of al-Qaeda. Well, if you were to talk about the financing of al-Qaeda, a very small percentage comes from these charity foundations. The vast majority of their financing comes from narcotics. Look, we had 4 to 6 percent of the narcotics coming from the East, coming from Pakistan, coming from Afghanistan via the Balkans to the United States. Today, three or four years after Sept. 11, that has reached over 15 percent. How is it getting here? Who are getting the proceedings from those big narcotics?
Who, indeed? It isn't all going back to these farmers, or even to the Taliban, or even to people in some part of Asia.
Once again quoting a key passage from Former FBI Translator Sibel Edmonds Calls Current 9/11 Investigation Inadequate by Jim Hogue, May 07, 2004:
JH: Here's a question that you might be able to answer: What is al-Qaeda?
SE: This is a very interesting and complex question. When you think of al-Qaeda, you are not thinking of al-Qaeda in terms of one particular country, or one particular organization. You are looking at this massive movement that stretches to tens and tens of countries. And it involves a lot of sub-organizations and sub-sub-organizations and branches and it's extremely complicated. So to just narrow it down and say al-Qaeda and the Saudis, or to say it's what they had at the camp in Afghanistan, is extremely misleading. And we don't hear the extent of the penetration that this organization and the sub-organizations have throughout the world, throughout their networks and throughout their various activities. It's extremely sophisticated. And then you involve a significant amount of money into this equation. Then things start getting a lot of overlap -- money laundering, and drugs and terrorist activities and their support networks converging in several points. That's what I'm trying to convey without being too specific. And this money travels. And you start trying to go to the root of it and it's getting into somebody's political campaign, and somebody's lobbying. And people don't want to be traced back to this money.
Eradicate poppies in Afghanistan, and bigwigs in America lose money, elections and power.
Returning to Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?:
So it appeared that things were moving nicely. We were going to increase incentives to farmers and politicians while also increasing the disincentives with aggressive eradication and arrest of criminal officials and leading traffickers. The Pentagon seemed on board.
Of course, you know that wasn't going to last.
Stay tuned to Stop Islamic Conquest as The Sword of Allah continues!