Saturday, June 27, 2009

Just Say No and Here's a Check

Our envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, talks about our change in strategy on the drug front in Afghanistan. We're abandoning eradication programs and switching to efforts to get farmers to go legit:

"We're essentially phasing out our support for crop eradication and using the money to work on interdiction, rule of law, alternate crops," he told the AP. At the same time, Washington is upgrading its support for agriculture programs.

"That's the big change in our policies," he said. "This was widely accepted as the right thing to do."

Costa said the United Nations had determined that eradication programs were inefficient since too few hectares (acres) were being cleared at too high a cost.

The U.S. strategy of phasing out eradication in favor of agricultural development and drug interdiction "seems to be the winning strategy, and I'm glad that all of this has received support from the G-8 ministers," Costa told the AP.

Holbrooke said the previous U.S. policy to combat Afghan poppy, which focused on eradication programs, hadn't reduced "by one dollar" the amount of money the Taliban earned off cultivation and production.

"It might destroy some acreage," Holbrooke said. "But it just helped the Taliban."

Strategypage provides some useful background:

Herat province was declared "poppy free". Most of Afghanistan is also, and the Afghans have gotten the U.S. to halt the spraying of poppy fields with herbicide. While the spraying has been successful in other parts of the world, in Afghan, local officials have shown that they can persuade farmers to stop planting poppies via a combination of threats and rewards. This policy has worked in the north, but is more difficult to implement in the south because of the large Taliban presence, and the formation of several powerful drug cartels. The latter are your typical warlord operations, but in this case armed with lots of cash (for bribes) as well as gunmen (Taliban contractors, as well as fighters working directly for the drug boss).

It sounds as if only the farmers were being harmed by eradication without harming the Taliban and gangs further up the production and distribution chain.

By giving the farmers alternatives to poppies, we can hopefully split them from cooperating with the Taliban.

While some pundits have argued we should ignore the drug trade in Aghanistan because it just drives people to the Taliban, I think we must go after the drug trade to dry up Taliban money sources. More troops in the south will help nullify the impact of those armed cartels.

I'm perfectly fine with altering strategies to be more effective in curbing the drug trade without harming the farmers who suffered the most from the old strategy.