One thing that every U.S. official, military and civilian, who has responsibility for Afghanistan agrees upon is that the eradication of the poppy crop in Afghanistan is critical to defeating the Taliban and establishing some form of stable, democratic, central government there. The United Nations drug control agency reported earlier this week that the amount of land sown with poppies increased by 7% this year. It was the second consecutive year that poppy cultivation rose. This rise has occurred despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the U.S. government to disrupt opium smuggling operations and the insurgent networks that profit from them.
Afghan economic realities trump American aspirations and “magical thinking”. We are trying to convince Afghan farmers who have cultivated poppies for generations to grow wheat, pomegranates and saffron instead of poppies which can yield more than $4000 per acre. Do the math. What would you grow? Because of rising prices and higher production the value of the opium produced in Afghanistan is set to more than double this year to $1.4 billion equal to 9% of Afghanistan’s GDP and approximately equal to the government’s annual tax revenues. The majority of that $1.4 billion will flow to the Taliban and Afghan warlords.
After several years of asking the question, “What does success (winning) in Afghanistan look like?” without anything resembling a good answer, I may be a step closer by identifying failure.
Major General (Ret.) Dennis Laich is the Director of the PATRIOTS Program (www.ODUPatriots.com) for veterans at Ohio Dominican University.
This entry is cross-posted at Generally Speaking.