Afghanistan: Gods Will and Land Mines

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April 11, 2007: Afghanistan's poppy production grew over fifty percent last year, to some 400,000 acres (160,000 hectares). The yield is estimated to be 6,100 tons of poppies, that can be refined into 610 tons of heroin (90 percent of the world supply, mainly because of low price). Farmers earn about $1,700 per acre of poppies, which is the highest price for any crop grown in Afghanistan. Actually, the middlemen, often tribal leaders, make far more per acre, and the farmers often end up in debt if the poppy crop fails (for any number of reasons, including government anti-drug efforts). When sold in a Western town or city, the heroin from that acre of Afghan poppies brings in about $80,000. There's lots of money for the middlemen, including the Taliban. Most of the poppies are grown in Taliban country. The Taliban tax the farmers, and other middlemen, 10-20 percent. Big money. Buys lots of guns, government officials and other stuff.

So what makes Afghanistan different from Colombia, where most of the worlds cocaine is produced? The difference is that the political gangs in Colombia (mainly the FARC, a leftist crew now in their fourth decade of trying to establish a socialist dictatorship), is that these groups do not support international terrorism. The gangs of Colombia are not interested in sending suicide bombers to the United States. So the U.S. doesn't send thousands (only hundreds) of troops to Colombia. If the Afghan drug lords stayed out of the international terrorism business, they would garner a lot less attention from the international community. Ultimately, what's going to wreck the drug business in Afghanistan is the growing use of cheap opium and heroin by Afghans. That's what happened in Pakistan, and other countries that, for a while, supported illicit drug production. But this process takes years, and during that time, things get pretty ugly.

April 9, 2007: Trading five captured Taliban for a kidnapped Italian journalist last month turned out, as expected, to be a major headache. Since then, there have been three more kidnappings, with the Taliban holding fifteen hostages (two French, 13 Afghan), and demanding that Taliban prisoners be released, or the hostages will be killed. To prove their point, the Taliban beheaded the Afghan interpreter of the freed Italian journalist. The government, realizing it had made a mistake dealing for the Italian journalist, refused to make a deal for the Afghan interpreter. The only reason an exchange was made in the first place was because the Italian government was under pressure, by political disputes back home, to withdraw Italian troops from Afghanistan, because of the kidnapped Italian journalist. It was a tough call to make, because the Italian troops are among those NATO forces who are not allowed to fight, but they do help with security in areas of the country where there is no Taliban threat. Afghans were upset that a similar deal was not made for the two Afghans taken with the Italian. But the government realized too late that, making such deals, only leads to more kidnappings.

April 7, 2007: The Taliban ambushed a demining team, killing seven and wounding four. Until now, demining teams were left alone, since the Russian land mines, that still cover about 15 percent of the country, are a threat to all. The demining effort has been going on since 1989, paid for by over $300 million in foreign aid. But the Taliban see anything benefiting Afghans, that does not come from the Taliban, as hurting support for the Taliban. So now the Taliban attack any foreign aid project, including food and medical supplies for those hurt during the Spring floods. It's Gods Will.

April 5, 2007: While the Taliban talk of a Spring offensive, it's NATO and Afghan troops who are actually launching one. The battlefield is Helmand province in the south. This is the home of the most dedicated Taliban tribesmen, as well as the most active producers of opium and heroin. Helmand is where the money is, the money that keeps the Taliban, as well as the drug gangs, going. It's tough to run a heroin producing operation with all these soldiers running around, but the drug business is the core of Taliban military strength. The pro-Taliban tribes have been defending their conservative ways for centuries. In the 1990s, these southern tribes managed to gain control of most of Afghanistan, and tried to impose their customs on the rest of the country. This was a spectacular failure, as seen by the rapidity of the Taliban's collapse in late 2001. The current "war" is an attempt by the Taliban to establish a base in southern Afghanistan. So far, this effort has failed.

 

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