What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The puzzling lack of consistency in the coalition's approach to counternarcotics

On an earlier occasion, I noted the following with regards to the coalition's counternarcotics activities in Afghanistan:
"... an incident was mentioned here where U.S. Marines paid compensation to an opium poppy farmer for having a C-17 airdrop land on his field, crushing some plants. Back in December last year, another incident was covered at this site, whereby a U.S.-led police team, there with an escort of Canadian soldiers, thought it the best approach to winning the hearts and minds of an outlying village in Kandahar province, to destroy all the marijuana plants that were found there. I have also written of Polish soldiers participating in destroying hashish plants in Ghazni, and of Dutch forces only reluctantly helping an Afghan Eradication Force/Dyncorp team once they got into trouble back in 2007 (originally covered by Mr. Anderson for the New Yorker). I know of countries that would not care a bit if somebody would be growing poppies right beside their main base (...) and now I learned that for the Danes, theoretically, it is cheaper to drive on poppies than it is on wheat..."
My main "anti-conclusion" there was that this sort of incoherence in counternarcotics is puzzling, when one of the things absolutely necessary to defeat a rural insurgency, even in the absence of external support to the insurgents, is to have a smart approach to how one should treat farmers' crops.
What I am not saying is that everywhere people should do the same thing. A smart approach has to mean a set of different approaches in different local contexts. Strategic rewards and punishments may be generated, short- and long-term pay-offs may be different depending on all sorts of specific factors etc. But overall it is puzzling that some think hearts and minds can be won when the Marines and/or the Afghan National Army enter villages to first of all kill the poppies. Even now, when the focus supposedly moved towards interdiction and the killing or capturing of key targets (traders).
See this picture, from the NYT. And read this article.
The caption to the pic says: "... the Marines of Weapons Company, along with Afghan government troops, confiscated and burned poppy seeds." The article claims: "In several houses, Afghan soldiers found sacks of poppy seeds, which they carried outside, slashed open with knives and set on fire."
This is happening in an area in Helmand where insurgents are in control for now. So fine, government officials, police or anyone else will not really be involved in this. Some of the money from the opium produced here definitely may go to insurgents. But otherwise, what does a raid like this achieve? If the Marines are not going to stay there, they are just leaving behind local people likely in some serious debt now, with some obvious career options such as founding an IED planting cell from the qawm of theirs. If the Marines are staying, these people could be persuaded to do something else next season (with the right incentives). So why be keen on killing the poppies this time around?
And how can some people hope that farmers will see fertiliser-based IEDs as a threat and not as a solution (or a revenge tool) in cases like that? Seriously, some recent pyschological operations aim to achieve success telling local farmers that insurgents mining their fields are dangerous. Which is true, of course, provided/when the insurgents are so clearly apart from the population. And from the farmers.
To clarify my position, I am asking open questions here. It may be that this approach to poppies is a very area-specific approach. As noted above as well, I have heard of occasions before when the Marines were tolerant of the poppies. But even if it is the case that it is specifically around Marjah, identified as a trading hub for opium, that nowadays crop eradication and confiscation is practiced in this sort of way, I still fail to see the rationale of it.

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