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Marines Ignore Afghan Poppy Fields

The Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Platoon, sleep beside a field of poppies as Afghan workers quietly gather up the opium bulbs. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has moved into southern Helmand province which is the world’s largest largest opium poppy-growing region. But, unlike the foolish policies of the Bush administration, the Marines are not destroying the fields and have assured farmers their crops will not be touched by American forces. As Lt. Adam Lynch noted: “”It’s kind of weird. We’re coming over here to fight the Taliban. We see this. We know it’s bad. But, at the same time we know it’s the only way locals can make money.” Marines commanders are emphasizing their primary target is the Taliban, not poppy fields which are the mainstay for many Afghan farmers.

Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghan’s drug trade, said the Marines have been placed in a complex situation by one dimensional thinkers in Washington. Rubin, a professor at NYU, points out: “All we hear is not enough troops, send more troops., Then you send in troops with no capacity for assistance, no capacity for development, no capacity for aid, no capacity for governance.”

Ironically, the Marnes in the field have greater insight into how to deal with Afghanistan than “experts” sitting in the White House who believe the war on drugs should be an important goal in Afghanistan. The Marines, wisely, are focusing on the enemy-the Taliban– not on innocent farmers who are trying to eke out a living.

Aid Afghan Farmers-Rethink Anti-Opium Fight

The World Bank and the Department of International Development of Great Britain, urged providing assistance to Afghanistan farmers is an important weapon in defeating insurgent elements. Afghanistan allegedly accounts for about 90% of the world’s illicit opium trade. Williwam Byrd, an adviser to the World Bank, commented: “Eradication of poppy fields looks superficially attractive,” but it is not a sustainable solution either economically or politically. Poor Afghan farmers need poppies to survive. Unless they have alternative sources of revenue, security against militants, and good government, they must continue relying on their only source of money. Opium production accounts for about 30% of Afghan’s illicit economy.

President Bush can announced wars against drugs and pledge to wipe out the Taliban, but for the ordinary farmer in Afghanistan the poppy field he has is the poppy field that produces money for his survival. A few months ago, some British sources urged buying up the entire poppy crop as a means to give farmers a stake in the present Afghanistan government and cut off sources of revenue for the Taliban. It still is the most realistic approach to dealing with the problem of opium.

New Bush Legacy– The Opium Man

American troops came charging into Iraq four years ago anxious to spread the benefits of democracy to the benighted inhabitants of that far off land. George Bush has repeatedly announced his opposition to all forms of drugs, but, it now appears the president has become the godfather of opium growers in Iraq. The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading raidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops. Drug lords, who were suppressed by the Taliban, got a new taste of democracy when that group was driven from power. Ironically, once defeated, the Taliban has switched to opium production as a means of obtaining financial resources to support its terrorism. Drug production is now centered in Diyala where al-Qaeda is strong. Farmers discovered they could not compete with imports of fruits and vegetables so they have switched to the poppy fields of fortune.

Al-Qaeda has strong influence in the area and is facilitating poppyt production. The harvest is taken by drug smugglers to Basra from where it is exported to the rich markets of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states– all alies of the United States in the fight to end al-Qaeda terrorism. The presence of militias all over Iraq simply means it will be extremely difficult to halt the growth of new poppy fields. George Bush is the patron saint of terrroism in the Middle East and he can now add to his acolades the growth of heroin production in the region.

Westerm Diplomats Expelled From Afghanistan

Two senior Western diplomats were given 48 hours to leave Afghanistan because they attempted negotiating with anti-government leaders in Helmand province. Michael Semple, head of the EU mission in Afghanistan and Mervin Patterson, a high level UN official were accused of threatening Afghanistan’s national security because they were “involved in some activities that were not their jobs.” The two men allegedly offered aid and development incentives to tribal elders in the Taliban heartlands. Their goal was working with tribal leaders and even members of the Taliban to seek a solution that would end violence and lead to improved cooperation between the government and its opponents. The diplomats met with government officials and tribal commanders in a Taliban dominated area. At least one important leader in Musa Qala agreed to cease supporting the Taliban.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been urging a re-evaluation of Afghan policy which would entail attempting to bring some members of the Taliban into the government. Other British officials have even urged drastic steps like purchasing the entire poppy crop in order to wean farmers away from the Taliban. The bottom line is present strategy simply isn’t working six years after the war in Afghanistan began.

Gordon Brown–Talk With Taliban!

As the bloodiest year in Afghanistan comes to a close since the US led invasion of 2001, the British government is preparing new approaches to dealing with the situation confronting its forces. Since the beginning of the year over 6,000 people have been killed including 40 British soldiers. Th Cabinet approved a three prong approach to Afghanistan based on improving security, economic development and engaging in discussions with Taliban leaders. A high level source in the British government who accompanied Brown on his recent trip to Afghanistan, reported the prime minister said, “We need to ask who are we fighting? Do we need to fight them? Can we be talking to them?” Several key British officials believe it is a mistake to regard the Taliban as a unified body. The “Taliban” is in reality a conglomeration of religious leaders, tribal chieftains, disgruntled farmers and some foreign fighters.

Gordon Brown is proposing a more complex and sophisticated approach to Afghanistan than the simplistic Bush/Cheney view that the Taliban is a unified coherent group led by religious figures. Brown is apparently distancing himself from the Blair/Bush military view of solving problems. Many British officials reject Bush’s emphasis on poppy eradication programs which only drive farmers into the open arms off the Taliban. Some have even suggested buying up the entire opium production as being more cost effective than fighting farmers and their Taliban allies. British troops have left Basra much to the dismay of American military leaders, and an emphasis on economic development and diplomatic negotiations with the Taliban will undoubtedly infuriate the Bush administration. The bottom line is simple, things are getting worse in Afghanistan and it is time to attempt new approaches. Brown is making an interesting proposal which should be attempted.

Opium Or Jobs, We Prefer Jobs For Afghans Says Danish Leader

Danish Defense Minister Saren Gade gave a blunt evaluation of military operations in Afghanistan which he claimed focused too much on the negative and ignored positive needs. He is particularly upset at having Danish troops stationed in a poppy growing area where they devote time to eradicating opium. “It doesn’t solve anything to burn poppy fields and blow up factories if there isn’t anything else from which the poor souls can survive.” Gade argues there is need for serious action such as massive economic assistance to Afghanistan and that money “has to come from the UN or the EU.”

Gade makes a great deal of sense. The farmers of Afghanistan depend on poppy fields for economic survival. If western powers and the United States want an end to poppy fields there must be alternative economic avenues to offer the farmers. Rhetoric about harm caused by drugs will not fill the stomachs of Afghanistan children. It is fortunate someone like Gade is talking common sense about eradicating drugs without offering alternative economic opportunities.

Why Are We In Afghanistan Asks British Journalist?

Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent notes tomorrow marks the six anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan in order to end Taliban rule. There has now been six years of continual warfare with no apparent certainty of its conclusion. As Cockburn points out, when he visited southern Afghanistan in 2002 it was safer and under greater government control than at present. He emphasizes, “,,, during the years that have elapsed is there any evidence from the speeches of successive British ministers that they have much idea what we are doing there and what we hope to achieve? It is a fair question. During the initial months of the invasion, Pakistan cooperated and the Taliban essentially collapsed. Today, Pakistan does not cooperate and the Taliban has gained renewed power.

People often compare the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Iraq has oil potential which would lead to an economic boom, but all Afghanistan has at this point in time are poppy fields. American policy is to destroy poppy fields, but what then is the basis for wealth in Afghanistan. It is extremely difficult wiping out the Taliban since they readily retreat in Pakistan sanctuaries where they can not be touched. Is there something wrong with this picture?