U.S. Working to Pop Afghanistan’s Drug Market Bubble
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2007 The United States has a “five-pillar” plan to counter the Afghan narcotics industry, which supplies about 93 percent of the world’s opium and has a virtual monopoly over the global heroin market, a top Defense Department official said here today.
“The five pillars are public information, alternative livelihoods, eradication, interdiction and justice reform,” Richard J. Douglas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics, counterproliferation and global threats, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Narcotics trade in Afghanistan hinders the country’s economic growth and undermines its democratic institutions by providing extremists, terrorists and other dissidents the resources to oppose the central government, Douglas said.
The Defense Department is using the five pillars to “increase the capacity of the government of Afghanistan … to stop narcotics trafficking,” he said. “When the Afghan government is in a better position to pick up the load, it’s going to take a lot of pressure off of our people, and that’s what we’re hoping to see.”
Douglas, who visited with the governor of Afghanistan’s Helmand province last year, said that despite some “sobering challenges” operationally, there is “quite a bit of political will on the part of the Afghan government to deal with this problem.”
“The fact is, we’re better off than we were three years ago when we started the program,” he said. “There’s certainly cause for optimism that Afghans themselves … are going to be able to deal with this mission.”
Drug Enforcement Agency mentors are training and equipping a specialized Afghan interdiction unit to directly address traffickers. “We are developing an Afghan intelligence fusion cell, a communications system and a number of bases of operation,” Douglas said.
Additionally, a squadron of MI-17 HIP H helicopters will support the interdiction unit. “The helicopter squadron is very important because of the need for air mobility in a country with extremely rugged terrain (like Afghanistan),” he said.
In conjunction with the State Department, the Defense Department will engage in the “border management initiative, which will assist in hindering the flow of drugs leaving Afghanistan and the importation of precursor chemicals needed to turn opium into heroin,” he said.
Douglas said the tactical training Afghan border police are receiving “has already reduced casualties during confrontations with narco-traffickers at the border.”
The Defense Department also is cooperating with counternarcotic authorities in Central Asian “transit zone” countries to help clamp down on illicit drug exports from Afghanistan -- the “source zone.”
“We have efforts under way in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan,” Douglas said. “The idea is to do similar efforts to build capacity on the other side of the border, so the Afghan and bordering authorities are able to cooperate and work better together.”
A softer approach in which the departments of State and Defense are jointly engaged is the “alternative livelihood pillar” that aims to introduce new crops or alternative yields into Afghanistan’s agriculture to wean Afghan farmers off the poppy crop used for opium and heroin production.
Douglas said international challenges are exacerbated by consumerism in “arrival zone” countries. “The No. 1 narcotics problem we face is demand in the United States,” he said.