Thursday, May 09, 2013
Opium - "A Source of Stability" Says U.S. Army
If the mightiest military in the world is okay with the opium trade then what are we doing busting kids for pot?
The current opium policy of American forces in Afghanistan is strictly "hands off." You don't destroy it, you don't trample through opium fields, you don't even encourage the farmers to plant something else.
“They’re a source of stability,” Maj. Charles Ford, the bookish operations officer at 3-41 Infantry, says of Afghanistan’s poppies. Sitting in a plywood-walled office at a Forward Operating Base in Kandahar city in early April, Ford cites all the people in Afghanistan who rely on poppies for some or all of their income: the Taliban, granted, but also millions of everyday farmers and their families as well as all levels of corrupt Afghan government from the subdistricts up to Kabul.
Fortunately for all these groups, there are some 400,000 acres of poppies in Afghanistan — “enough to go around,” according to Ford, who is responsible for devising his battalion’s combat strategy. Plentiful and lucrative — 15 pounds of poppy paste, the output of a typical acre family plot, sells for around $600 in a country where $.25 buys bread for a day — the illicit crop offers “access to prosperity” for much of Afghanistan. And that access is all that most Afghans really want.
Leave the poppies alone, and most Afghans will happily go about their business farming and selling the colorful crop — or so Ford’s line of thinking goes. Granted, once processed into heroin and distributed in Russian and European cities, heroin can become a pretty serious danger to public health. But that, frankly, is not the U.S. Army’s problem, whereas Afghan security is.
Conversely, attempting to eradicate poppies — as has been the Army’s policy in the recent past — could mean destitution for countless Afghans. Sure, destroying the flowers might deprive the Taliban of one of its major revenue streams, but the violent popular backlash against eradication would probably represent a net victory for the insurgent group.