Afghan Surge Won’t Target Drug Crops

Thousands of extra Marines pouring into Afghanistan’s opium-growing heartland will go after those who process drugs but not those who grow the crop, the commander of U.S. Marines in the area said.

Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of 10,000 Marines in Helmand, which produces the bulk of Afghanistan’s and the world’s opium crop, said his forces did not want to alienate local farmers by targeting the crop.

“The reality we have to face right now is that the number one cash crop in this area is still the poppy. We are not making war with the poppy farmer,” Nicholson said in an interview with Reuters and CNN at Camp Leatherneck, the Marines’ sprawling desert base in Helmand.

The U.S. Marine force in southern Afghanistan is set to nearly double over the next few months, the main combat element in the first wave of 30,000 reinforcements dispatched by President Barack Obama this month.

Efforts to persuade farmers to grow other crops in Helmand have had some success, in part because of the high price of wheat and a glut of opium.

Farmers cultivated a third less land in Helmand with opium poppy this year than last year, according to the United Nations, but because of a bumper crop the amount they produced was down only about 22 percent.

The 4,100 metric tons produced in Helmand are still about 60 percent of Afghanistan’s crop, which accounts for more than 90 percent of all global heroin trade.

Marines study opium farming, and have even planted some in a garden on their base so that troops on patrol will know what it looks like and be able to tell when they see it how long it has been growing.

Nicholson said Marines often found black-tar opium alongside bomb-making materials during their raids, a sign of the link between the trade and the insurgency.

“We will go after the processing plants and the labs. We will go after those with great vengeance. We will destroy the poppy seeds if we find it. What we have been very careful not to do is make an enemy of the poppy farmer,” he said.

He said farmers had told his troops they were happy the Marines had driven out the Taliban but had made clear they had no plans to stop growing drugs.

British and American programs were being set up to encourage farmers to grow other crops like wheat, but in some areas it was still not always possible to earn a living growing food crops and get them to market safely.

“The fact of the matter is, for a lot of these people the only way they can make any money is to sell the poppy, and that’s the sad reality now,” he said. “Creating (enemies of) 30,000 to 40,000 farmers, getting them angry at the government and the coalition, is probably not good for us.”

– Article from Reuters.



  1. Anonymous on

    does any one else see something wrong with this?
    if they dont go after the farmers but go after the farmers customers then wont they be unhappy farmers sooner or later if their buyers get taken out?
    i smell a rat, maybe they will pick and choose who they bust so that the farmers still have a market and they can allow certain businesses to thrive.

  2. Brad in Oz on

    Funny, the USA doesn’t have a problem targeting/harassing coca growers by miltary force in south american countries and cannabis growers in mexico.

    Their empahasis on targeting “processing plants and…labs” is doomed to fail (like most of their approaches), since according to THEIR OWN HIGHLY FUNDED RESEARCH processing of opium and heroin manufacture has recently largely and rapidly shifted from large scale labs (due to less risk of a bust at the end stage of the whole supply chain) to a multitude of tiny processors (often the farmer himself) who need only about two common chemicals (plus some buckets) to refine the morphine and one chemical to make the heroin (plus a boiling pot).

    Another massive waste of money that could’ve been directed at health, education and infrastructure in Afghanistan (which is appalling) so the peasants might actually have an alternative job to supplying the rest of the world with drugs. Instead more Afghan’s will no doubt have their doors kicked in by US soldiers fighting not one, but two never ending wars (on terror & drugs), further instilling hatred of the USA among the masses!

    USA – so righteous, so ignorant, so wrong!

  3. Anonymous on

    It’s not a drug war. It’s a war for market share.