Wednesday, December 15, 2010

“Everything in Afghanistan is Corrupt”

“How so?” I asked the young officer preparing for his second deployment.

“Most of the world’s opium is grown in Afghanistan and flown out of Kabul International Airport.”

“Wait a second, doesn’t the U.S. own NKAIA?”

“Yes, and we’re in on it.”

“What are we talking about?  A handful of supply sergeants taking bribes to look the other way?”

“Perhaps, but that’s not what I meant.  This goes all the way to the top.”

“Okay, now I’m curious.  Why is the USG cooperating with the drug traffickers?”

“Well, it’s more complicated than that.  The opium trade is controlled by the Pashtun warlords.  These have coopted units of the Afghan National Police, who provide them with protection.  The Taliban is overtly against the drug trade but covertly receives money from it.”

“Didn’t we create the ANP too?”

“Yes, but the Taliban infiltrated it.  Some of the ANP units were so bad that they got in on the extortion racket.  At one point, American troops actually had to ‘re-liberate’ a town whose inhabitants were being shaken down by the ANP.  In Kabul, we routinely see ANP mounted patrols providing armed protection to warlord convoys carrying opium.”

“And . . . everybody’s okay with this?”

“Sometimes, one of our patrols will run into an ANP patrol and there might be a standoff, sometimes a firefight.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!  A lawfully constituted arm of the Afghan state fires on American troops?  Why am I not hearing about this on the teevee?  Why am I not reading theatrical expressions of outrage from the highest levels of our government?  Why aren’t there sternly worded ultimatums put to President Karzai?”

“Karzai is a pimp.  He does exactly what the theater commander tells him to do.  But you have to understand that drug interdiction is not our job.  There are, in fact, multiple organs of the USG operating in Afghanistan at cross purposes.  For instance, the U.S. State Department has the counterdrug mission.  To prosecute this mission, they hire contractors, Blackwater types usually, to conduct search and destroy missions against opium fields.  This pisses off the warlords, who retaliate by putting a car bomb next to an American checkpoint somewhere.  Our job, in contrast, is ‘hearts and minds’.  We don’t really care if the warlords grow opium so long as they don’t support the Taliban against Karzai.  So we look the other way as the opium flies out of KIA.”


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