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July 31, 2009

Afghan drug war: Interdiction to replace crop eradication

U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke is congratulating himself for ending the Bush administration's expensive and ineffective opium poppy eradication program. Trouble is, he's decided to replace eradication with interdiction.

He's only switching to the same failed strategy that the rest of the drug war is based on. Interdiction doesn't stop the billion dollar drug trade right here in the U.S., where the government actually controls all the territory. What makes Holbrooke think that interdiction will work in Afghanistan when the coalition doesn't even have a presence in, let alone control of, most of the territory.

Here's how Holbrooke described a successful interdiction at a press briefing yesterday:

On this trip, we saw the first indications that it might work. And those indications came from the British and American forces in Helmand, where they targeted interdiction and made interdiction their goal and they went after drug dealers. And using modern technologies, they located what they called drug bazaars, marketplaces which sold drug paraphernalia, precursor chemicals, laboratory equipment, poppy seeds and there were vast amounts of opium, nice fluffy poppy, to buy and sell, and they destroyed them. [The Cable]

He says they used "modern technology" to find drug bazaars. Does he really mean drone strikes on drug markets? If so, that's going to work until the narcos give up on their farmer's markets and go underground like normal traffickers. Of course, that will be an impetus for defense contractors and private security firms to sell the U.S. another costly round of "modern technology" to detect slightly better-hidden dope.

And how long before a drone or an satellite image analyst mistakes a real farmer's market for a drug market?


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Well, if they (the opium dealers) are smart, they'll mix their operations with other markets and so on. Which means McChrystal's plan of avoiding civilian casualties will either cease to target the opium dealers, or, bomb some civilians anyway.

I've seen enough 1st hand accounts to surmise that nearly everybody who can grows poppies in Afghanistan, whether its for home consumption or to sell.

Forget about drug legalization, none of the politicians want that. (You got to wonder why prohibition was repealed).

Just like with the marijuana market, the ONLY thing that'll work is to underprice the illegal producers, stripping them of their customers and eliminating their drug incomes.

We need to license reputable businesses to produce the drugs and to sell them to adults in safe and convenient locations. Of course a marijuana store may look very different from a heroin or meth store - marijuana could easily be sold in bars or coffeeshops like alcohol, while harder drugs like heroin and crack would probably be better sold in a methadone clinic like setting.

Illegal drugs cannot be kept out of jails and prisons. Every jail and prison in the world has drugs inside them,
so how are you going to keep them out of countries with
thousands of miles of international borders? You're not.

Did anyone ask Holbrooke whether people were killed in the destruction of the drug markets? One would think that there would be all sorts of people, including farmers and family members, in such places.

"Does he really mean drone strikes on drug markets?"

He quite clearly didn't say anything of the sort.

You're also confusing a strategy aimed at reducing drug addiction (which has never been a goal in Afghanistan), with one aimed at reducing the capability of people using their drug profits to mount violent challenges to the central government. You're right that interdiction has little effect on the addict at the point-of-sale, but done well it can reduce the personal well-being and freedom to maneuver of insurgent druglords quite effectively. Ask Pablo Escobar.

Bruce, you're confused about your drug war history. Ask the FARC whether bringing down Pablo Escobar stopped money flowing to insurgencies! If the goal is to stabilize Afghanistan, then crushing one set of drug traffickers means nothing if the trade just shifts to different narcos, which is what always happens as long as the demand is there and prohibition is in place to keep prices sky high. Interdiction won't work any better than eradication. It's a sucker's game.

With respect, Lindsay, I think you're a little confused about the history of FARC.

FARC expanded in the 1990s precisely because of a misbegotten policy of aerial spraying and other farmer-directed attacks that turned a local rural population against the government. That's exactly the situation Holbrooke's trying to avoid here. As for FARC itself, as late as 1997 DEA congressional testimony was saying, "To date, there is little to indicate the insurgent groups are trafficking in cocaine themselves, either by producing cocaine HCL and selling it to Mexican syndicates, or by establishing their own distribution networks in the United States." (FARC's official story, for what it's worth, is they tax farmers regardless of what the farmers grow, and some of what they happen grow is coca. Again, take it for what it's worth.)

It should also go without saying that their ongoing and extensive kidnapping campaign would make a lot less sense if they could have easily made up all that ransom money through the drug trade instead. Squeezing the Taliban down to a FARC-like situation where they have to resort primarily to kidnappings for their income the way FARC does now would be a big step forward. And while FARC, which was never too comfortable with publicly embracing the trade for obvious reasons, seems to have survived the collapse of the cartels, it's also true that the more urban-based and destructive M-19, which was apparently more dependent on cartel contributions, did not.

In any case, as your own July 28 post documents, interdiction has more or less down the direct Colombia-U.S. trade, shifting the cartels' primary base of operations to Mexico. So yes, the drug war continues. But in the Afghan case, reducing drug addiction overall was never anyone's real consideration. Getting the druglords to depart Afghanistan for some other poor country, the way they departed Colombia, would be just fine as an outcome from the Afghans' point of view, as it no doubt is for many Colombians.

I'm all for ending crop eradication to keep from further the alienating the population and creating more support for insurgency that way.

Yes, eradication alienation helped prepare the ground for FARC. But the reason the FARC were able to move in was because the operations of Escobar and the Cali Cartel were fragmented by a joint U.S.-Colombian offensive.

The center of power in the North American drug trade has shifted to Mexico, but the trade continues and the Colombians continue to make plenty of money, which continues to fund insurgencies.

Sure, if you're willing to spend enough money and lives, you can tweak the course of the flow, but the problem doesn't go away. That's what's happening in Latin America. Colombia's in a slightly better position, but only at the cost of further destabilizing other countries like Mexico and Guatemala. Crack down one corridor and some of the drugs reroute, spreading violence and corruption where ever they go. Now we've got the FARC making friends in Venezuela. Swell.

If you really want to take money away from your enemies in Afghanistan, decriminalize opium. The price will plummet.

seriously guys, afghan opium network is nowhere near the sophistication of Columbian drug cartel.

They are more like poor farmer supported by warlords. None of them are exactly business men. At most a willy guerilla. The drug profit feeds the guerilla war continuity.

Compare that to ultra sophisticated latin american drug cartels.


also. Be careful with the talk of 'drug liberalization'. Not all drug are created equal. Heroin and cocaine are not weed.

Hard drug really does cripple a person. And that person will become a great burden to everybody.

Some drug really worth the effort to stop from circulating. (again, we are not taking about weed here. but opium)

There is also context. Not everything is about US or US centric view. There is Pakistan which is a huge drug market and transit point. There is Russia which is a transit point. There is europe. (so talking about liberalization at practical level would involve places that obviously will never happen. The society, the medical system, the law enforcement are too primitive to have liberalization.)

Also big note. if you notice all these places with serious drug problem has root in guerilla war/CIA supported black op. (Iran-contra), Columbia, Af-pak-kashmir war.

One has to ask WHY? (War is not cheap, black operation cannot have visible budget. And selling drug is one of the easiest way to fund black operation.)

This is why there is such high degree of correlation between CIA supported black operation and large scale drug operation.

Eradication and interdiction are to drug trafficking organizations as partially effective antibiotics are to petri dish full of bacteria. You get super-bugs when you keep applying an antibiotic that isn't working. It kills off the weak ones and leaves only the strong.

That's exactly what happened in Mexico with U.S.-backed eradication campaigns. Projects like Operation Condor destroyed the mom and pop opium and cannabis cultivators that had been tending their fields for generations. The only operations that could withstand the onslaught were big land owners who would afford to bribe the government and the military. The cartels didn't really take root until the U.S. (DEA/CIA) browbeat Mexico into launching the offensive. That's where the old cartel families of Sinaloa got their start. A lot of today's kingpins are the grandsons or grandnephews of the old guard that really made it big after Condor.

We've seen a massive increase in the professionalization of the cartels in just the last 15 years or so. There's a lot of research documenting that the Colombians transferred a lot of their expertise to the Mexicans in a very short span.

Technology transfer has only gotten faster in today's world of satellite phones and internet connections and cheap international air travel. You've got gangsters from Italy striking deals to ship cocaine from Colombia through West Africa.

Of course intelligence agencies will get involved in this shit. Especially as inderdiction efforts become more intensive. The more you crack down on competitors, the more of a competitive advantage "inside" players have. It's not just the CIA. Count on some parts of the ISI to be making a lot of money on this, and plenty of other intelligence services besides.

Genetically engineered herbicide resistance opium poppy plant is old new. We are way beyond naturally occurring mutagenic plant.

Herbicide resistance poppy plant is a done deal.

The columbian cartel were rumored to hired genetic engineers long few years back. (google) I wouldn't be surprised if these transgenic plant will start showing up in afghanistan.

you can even do it yourself if you wanna. (Kinda expensive and a bit tricky, but not impossible.)

Genetic transformation via somatic embryogenesis to establish herbicide-resistant opium poppy

k. here is the story. (pretty fascinating really)

November 2004

But experts in herbicide resistance suspect that there is another, more intriguing possibility: The coca plant may have been genetically modified in a lab. The technology is fairly trivial. In 1996, Monsanto commercialized its patented Roundup Ready soybean - a genetically modified plant impervious to glyphosate. The innovation ushered in an era of hyperefficient soybean production: Farmers were able to spray entire fields, killing all the weeds and leaving behind a thriving soybean crop. The arrival of Roundup Ready coca would have a similar effect - except that in this case, it would be the US doing the weed killing for the drug lords.

LONDON (Reuters) - Colombian drug lords have developed a genetically modified "cocaine tree" that contains higher drug levels and is resistant to herbicides, the Financial Times newspaper said on Tuesday.

Drug producers received help from foreign scientists to develop the leafier strain of plant, which grows to 9 feet, twice the height of the normal shrub, the newspaper said, citing a Columbian police intelligence dossier.

"In their search for greater profits, drug-traffickers appear to have entered the world of genetically-modified crops," the dossier was quoted as saying.

The tree yields eight times more cocaine than the normal shrub, and due to its size and sturdiness is more resistant to herbicides - one of Colombia's main weapons in the war on drugs.

Eradication and interdiction are to drug trafficking organizations as partially effective antibiotics are to petri dish full of bacteria. You get super-bugs when you keep applying an antibiotic that isn't working. It kills off the weak ones and leaves only the strong.

First, the main superbug problem comes not from partially effective antibiotics, but from using effective antibiotics partially (for example, for 5 days instead of 10), so that they have no time to kill all bacteria.

Second, professionalization can mean a reduction in violence. The cartels in Colombia had less violent stateside distribution networks than the current drug gangs.

ah yeah, educate yourself about bacterial resistance.

(It will probably takes another decade to finally win against bacteria. When we have better way to kill it instead of using primitive chemicals like antibiotics. Genetic engineering to the rescue. In the meantime make sure you listen to your doctor when using antibiotic.)


also, if you want to know about general plant transgenic protocol. you can download it here. just don't do anything rash. lol

There has been a blizzard of anti-drug hysteria in the media lately. It's the same old sky is falling routine: 3% of the Afghan population is addicted to opium -- AN ENTIRE GENERATION IS BEING LOST! It's garbage; the vast majority of Afghanis are not addicted to opium and never will be. If drugs were 100% legal in the US only a small minority of users would become addicts. People do have some common sense.

This problem would have been solved years ago by corporations developing safer and cheaper recreational drugs. Instead we took the Big Brother route and still have a horrendous drug problem in addition to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been unjustly incarcerated for drug use. It's time for this sham to end.

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