US Troops to protect Afghan poppy production
Mon, 10 Dec 2007 11:26 EST
The US government has conceded defeat in its attempt to persuade the Afghanistan government to begin the aerial destruction of poppy fields as part of its opium eradication strategy.
|©Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press|
|Afghans are seen behind poppy fields during a poppy eradication campaign in the Rhodat district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan.|
"We have decided to stop pursuing the aerial spraying of poppy fields in Afghanistan," said Thomas Schweich, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
US officials have climbed down in the face of widespread criticism from the Afghan government and other coalition partners, notably the UK.
Although attempting to destroy poppy crops from the ground can be dangerous, the Afghan government is against the use of aerial spraying because of fears about the herbicide glyphosate's effect on the environment, other smaller crops and on health.
"The United States has always indicated that we would not pursue any counter-narcotics activity in Afghanistan that did not have the full support of the government of Afghanistan," said a spokeswoman in the US State Department.
Comment: Since when did the US ever need the "full support" of any government in order to implement its stated policies? Did the US "need" the support of the Afghanistan government in order to invade their country? It's a little known fact that the Taliban had effectively wiped out the poppy production in their country just prior to the US invasion:
The cultivation of opium reached its peak in 1999, when 225,000 acres - 350 square miles - of poppies were sown, with the complicity or encouragement of the Taliban, who were accused of using part of the proceeds to buy arms. The following year, the Taliban responded to international pressure to start reducing the opium harvest. It banned poppy cultivation, declaring it to be "un-Islamic" - a move which cut production by 94 per cent, although it continued to allow trading. By 2001 only 30 square miles of land were in use for growing opium poppies.
A year later, after American and British troops had removed the Taliban and installed the interim government of Hamid Karzai, the land under cultivation leapt back to 285 square miles, with Afghanistan supplanting Burma to become the world's largest opium producer once more.
The decision was met with widespread approval. "We agree with the Afghanistan government that the best way forward is through the building up of law enforcement, treating addiction and providing alternative livelihoods," said a spokesman at the Foreign Office.
Schweich, now touring Europe to explain the change in policy and to drum up support for other counter-narcotics initiatives, wants to "dramatically expand" the so-called Good Performers Intiative, which pays communities to finance local infrastructure if they cease poppy farming.
The thirteen provinces declared poppy free in August will each receive $500,000 (£244,000) in development assistance. Next year, this is set to rise to $1m.
The US and UK governments have allocated over $25m for the initiative. The US administration wants to go further and has already asked Congress for an additional $50m.
Schweich hopes to persuade other countries, including Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Austria to support the programme. "I hope we can get to over $100m," he said.
But the US is still committed to destroying poppy fields.
"Gound-based eradication ... will continue, but the decision on whether to proceed with ground-based spraying is still under discussion with the government of Afghanistan," said the US State Department spokeswoman.
Reducing the country's reliance on the opium trade will be difficult. Afghanistan's poppy harvest this year is expected to be 17% bigger than that recorded in 2006, according the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The country produces 93% of world's opium supplies, worth around $4bn to the Afghan economy.