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.