THE MIAMI HERALD
FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2004

AFGHANISTAN:

ERADICATE POPPY FIELDS, TERROR FUNDING

     

BY ROBERT WEINER and JEFFREY BUCHANAN


Just as the administration's Iraqi mission has been damaged by the scandal of prisoner abuse and other failures, the policy in Afghanistan has been undercut by the rebirth of the Afghani poppy, the main ingredient in heroin.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage admitted during a hearing last month that last year was the ''biggest year ever -- for poppy cultivation and growth in Afghanistan. So you would be wrong if you don't hold us responsible.'' The future looks even worse: A U.N. report says that two out of every three Afghan farmers plan to increase their poppy crop in 2004.

Dirty drug money

While the administration has made inroads into eradicating Colombian coca fields and is attacking Colombia's heroin as well, it has dangerously ignored Afghanistan's poppy problem. Afghanistan, after a two-year lapse, is once again ''the world's largest cultivator and producer'' of opium and heroin, according to the 2004 White House National Drug Control Strategy. Afghani crops in 2003 were more than double the 2002 crop. As much as half of Afghanistan's GDP now comes from poppy cultivation and heroin production.

How could this happen with so many U.S. troops on the ground, especially since dirty drug money pays for terrorism?

At an April 29 hearing, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., questioned Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on his department's ''reluctance to get into the narco-terrorist game'' at a time when ``the three key terror groups in Afghanistan -- the HIG, the Taliban and al Qaeda -- all are now largely dependent on heroin sales to fund their operations.''

Fighting drugs in Afghanistan is not a priority -- we're giving it a pass. Some of the worst culprits in this illicit trade have even been our closest allies, the members of the Northern Alliance -- the opposition to the Taliban with whom we worked to retake the nation. While they were helping U.S. forces weed out the Taliban, it seems that they were doing some gardening of their own.

The White House has offered a manual eradication plan that State Department Assistant Secretary for Narcotics Robert Charles admits may at best eliminate ''15 to 20 percent of the poppy crop,'' and that in fact is led by the British, not us. Why so meager an Afghani anti-drug plan when the world's foremost coca producer, Colombia, with U.S. assistance is approaching a 50 percent reduction and neighbors Peru and Bolivia have gone down more than 60 percent?

The White House policy has proposed $2.3 billion a year in development grants and loans for Afghani economic alternatives. However, with warlords and farmers making six to 100 times more on poppy than any other cash crop, the administration's policy will not affect poppy farmers' habits without massive eradication and enforcement.

Similar economic programs had only minuscule effect in Colombia until Plan Colombia, initiated by former drug czar Barry McCaffrey and continued by the Bush administration, aggressively eradicated the drugs.

Massive training

We need a Plan Afghanistan to rid the heroin and make the world safer. Where are the planes spraying and destroying the drug fields in Afghanistan as we spray in Colombia? We need massive training to involve our thousands of troops, actively and aggressively -- not just by the six to 10 anti-drug experts returning from one-week Drug Enforcement Administration courses in Turkey and Uzbekistan as is now done.

By acting at a snail's pace, the administration is effectively working in consort with Afghanistan's tribal drug lords and jeopardizing our own goals. Cut off the drugs, and you take a major step to cutting off the terrorists.

Robert Weiner was spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office and House Narcotics Committee, and Jeffrey Buchanan was chairman of the Charles Village Foreign Policy Forum at Johns Hopkins University.