Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Afghanistan: Don't take your eye off the ball

Michael Yon reminds us that we can’t take our eye off of Afghanistan.

      There is a widespread notion that Afghanistan is safer for our troops than Iraq, yet Coalition and NATO combat deaths in Afghanistan are per capita nearly identical to those in Iraq. In 2007, it looks as if per capita combat deaths will likely be significantly higher in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Why? There are many reasons, but one of the most important is that our European allies have been slow to recognize the reality that a monster really is under the bed. After years of neglect and dawdling, they are finally beginning to adjust, but they are still not keeping pace with the threat. They are still not providing their people with proper equipment, all while the Taliban is getting stronger from the billion-dollar narcotics backwash that floods enemy coffers. As in Iraq, troop numbers are also dangerously low in Afghanistan, and the handfuls of friendly forces there lack sufficient air power to stretch their security resources.

Drugs, namely heroin, are a major problem there, and Yon estimates that half the Afghan economy is poppy agriculture.  90 percent of the worlds heroin supply originates in Afghanistan.

      A reverse symbiosis is at work: Those who benefit most from the opium/heroin trades also benefit most from a destabilized Afghanistan, because a stable country with functioning government systems, reliable security forces, and a framework of laws is a bad climate for the drug trade. Conversely, farmers growing crops such as cotton and beans benefit from a stable government climate, which affords the opportunity to think beyond the next crop cycle. In order to make agriculture a more successful business venture, farmers need a stable government as a partner. But since the interests of poppy farmers and narco-kings are in aggressive opposition to any plan to stabilize Afghanistan, this partnership is not even in the talking stages.

      According to a GAO “Congressional Report on Afghanistan Reconstruction,” approximately half of Afghanistan’s economy is based on opium, meaning roughly half the economy thrives in a chaos that also funds world-class terrorists. Experts who study the calculus of the narcotics trade know that the problem is growing out of control in Afghanistan because every additional poppy lanced for its opium unleashes an oozing flow of black-market dollars. Those dollars are not taxed by the Kabul government, but by the virtual government of the Taliban. Perversely, poppy farmers grow poorer with each successively larger crop, because their bounty boosts supplies while driving prices lower, and they need to grow more each year just to stay even.

It’s just as much a battle to keep under control as Iraq is.  Perhaps more.

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