Friday, July 3, 2009

Afghanistan: Obama's Vietnam

There is no military solution in Afghanistan. But the President is bound by a campaign promise. This only means that many more Americans will die in a pointless war. The Taliban control the remote regions of that country and move in out of Afghanistan at will. The chaos in Pakistan, along with profits from opium, mean ultimate victory for the Taliban.

The commander of a British regiment has become the country's highest ranking soldier to be killed in action since 1982's Falklands War after a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Rupert Thorneloe was killed along with trooper Joshua Hammond, 18, on Wednesday as they were traveling along a canal in Lashkar Gah, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, the British Ministry of Defense said.

The Taliban have plenty of financing for their war.
Controlling the opium trade in Afghanistan, the world's leading producer of the drug, is a key element in the fight against Taliban militants.

With thousands of U.S. Marines launching a major new offensive against the Taliban-led insurgency in southern Helmand province, the epicenter of world opium production, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, has also foreshadowed a new approach to controlling the trade.

Following are questions and answers about Afghanistan's poppy production, its role in the insurgency and efforts to combat it.


Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world's opium, a thick paste made from the poppies that is processed to make heroin, according to United Nations figures.

In 2008, 157,000 hectares of opium were cultivated, down 19 percent from 193,000 hectares in 2007. Opium production only declined 6 percent to 7,700 tonnes because of record high yields.

Helmand cultivated 103,000 hectares in 2008.

In the same period, prices fell by about 20 percent, meaning the value of the opium to Afghan farmers fell by about a quarter from roughly $1 billion to about $730 million.

The export value of opium, morphine and heroin at border prices in neighboring countries fell to $3.4 billion in 2008 from $4 billion in 2007, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2008 Afghan Opium Survey.


The Taliban are mainly funded by the opium trade.

Despite the drop in cultivation, production and prices, the UNODC says the Taliban and other "anti-government forces" still make "massive amounts of money from the drug business." Their take, mainly from levies on processing and trafficking, has been put at between $200 million and $400 million, with up to $70 million more from "ushr," or charges on economic activity.

The other reason why the war will fail:
There are two major weaknesses: The Karzai government is riddled with corruption which has alienated many Afghans from both his administration and his NATO allies.

Official figures show that despite hundreds of millions of pounds in foreign aid for raising and training Afghanistan's national police, there are many areas which still have no functioning police force at all. The Western benchmarks of good governance – access to decent education and services - are in many parts of Afghanistan hard to make out from the rubble.

One diplomat in Kabul last night said he believed the new strategy has a year or two to deliver before Afghans decisively turn against them, but a former head of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service, General Hamid Gul, said he believes Obama's surge will have foundered by October.

The Taliban will fight a two-pronged strategy, he said: retreat to the hills where America's air power will not be so effective, while the remainder will disappear and wage a guerilla resistance campaign.

He believes the Taliban will learn more about American weaknesses from this new battle, as he says they did in Operation Anaconda in 2002. Then, several thousand American special forces with air support failed to deliver the knock-out blow they had expected.

The truth behind operation Operation Khanjar is that the Taliban has fought the western allies to a stale-mate in Helmand, and now the only hope lies in a devastating display of overwhelming force, the rapid delivery of good services, and the remotely possibility that it will be enough to impress senior Taliban commanders.