Monday, January 03, 2005

You Can't Shoot Your Heroin and Have It Too 

Courtesy of our distingushed colleage Rorschach at No Capital: Don Corleone, you will recall, wanted nothing to do with the narcotics trade; if only that visionary businessman (and gifted diplomat!) had been alive to counsel the Bush fa-- rather, the Bush administration in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan. From the Financial Times:
Divisions have opened in the Pentagon over the role the military should play in an aggressive crackdown on Afghanistan'snarco-economy amid fears that it could destabilise the country ahead of elections due in April.

Senior US generals are raising objections to moves to step up US troops' involvement in counter-narcotics operations that could alienate regional warlords whose support is needed to provide security for the poll. Officials involved in a tense debate inside the Pentagon over the US military's role in eradicating poppy fields said there is widespread agreement that the burgeoning drug trade risks corrupting the fledgling Karzai government.

But a split has opened between senior military officers, who are worried an onslaught on the trade could unsettle the country ahead of parliamentary elections, and Pentagon civilians who fear that increasing drug revenues could be used to influence the vote . . . .

“Central Command would prefer not to be in the eradication business,” said Lieutenant General Lance Smith, Centcom's deputy commander. “We have spent a lot of capital in trying to build relationships with the people in there and now this has the potential for us to do things that wouldn't be popular for some of the areas we're operating in.”

The US will spend $780m this year on counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, up from $130m in 2004. The debate on the role of the military in this new crackdown has intensified in recent weeks because of the forthcoming elections. These will require a much more complicated security operation than the October presidential vote.

Senior commanders fear that regional Afghan warlords, who control security in wide swathes of the country and frequently generate huge profits from the drug trade, could turn against the central government if poppy eradication is pushed too hard before a parliament is in place.
And the punchline, from the L.A. Times:
Some U.S. officials advocate aerial spraying to reduce the opium crop, warning that if harvested, it could flood the West with heroin, fill the coffers of Taliban fighters and fund terrorist activity in Afghanistan and beyond. They estimate the haul could earn Afghan warlords up to $7 billion, up from a record $2.2 billion in 2004 . . . .

The dispute underscores a vexing dilemma for the United States. Having ousted the Taliban from power, the Bush administration now finds that its three main policy objectives in the strategically important country — counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and political stability — appear to be contradictory.

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