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25 April 2006


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Canuck, If that's your perspective and underlying theory, why not just hand the Afghanis money and skip the poppies altogether.


Obviously, you don't agree. How would you go about defeating the Taliban in this very poor country, where the majority of the people grow poppies in an attempt to support themselves? Insurgents are taking back all ground that was previously won. The drug lords are supported politically--17 of them have been elected to their parliament.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/04/17/MNGHAIA5B31.DTL>Millions of dollars> have been spent. Dynacorp, a private Texas Company received a contract for 174 million to no avail--the crop in one province is expected to increase by 100% this year. The opium trade fuels the insurgency. It's a cycle that has to be addressed. The entire country's economy and insurgency revolves around opium.



Please focus your reply on the lives of the troops who are there from many different countries.


Back in January of 2005 Newseek had an article on a new approach being considered in the Pentagon for dealing with the Iraq insurgency called the "Salvador Option". It would replicate the tactics used in El Salvador, for proponents of the plan believed those tactics were successful in dealing the insurgency there. About a year and a half since that article was published, it seems clear to me that that option was indeed put into practice. I don't even consider it surprising, or a beastly option to them, it just seems to be their modus operandi. For a lack of a better way to describe it, they have a very wrong view of the world, for instance that getting intel on a growing insurgency by using sexual blackmail on detained suspects is fine idea, and they act on that viewpoint while blinding themselves to possible repercussions that don't fit into their viewpoint, or ignoring people who 'don't get it'. Focusing on missile defence and withdrawing from the ABMT rather than focusing on terrorism, the invasion of Iraq, the dumb ideas behind Guantonimo, applying what worked in El Salvador to Iraq, Iran if it happens, its all the same process, and thats why I don't consider it far off.


Google turns up more articles on the Salvadore Option as well.



Because the Afghanis are a proud people. I'd rather not hand the Taliban a ready-made propaganda lever on this one - much more difficult to sell the notion of western welfare than the notion of the west paying a fair price for what is widely considered to be a valuable commodity.

Management of the counter-narcotics strategy seems to me to be the single most determinative element of any COIN effort in Afghanistan. Anything that we can do to increase our connection with the local peasantry and decrease the financial supports and political control of the regional warlords working against the establishment of better national institutions is a good thing.


Canuck, I wasn't being sarcastic with my last.

My first born attends a military college and he has been accepted to jump school this summer (Fort Benning). Believe me, the lives and well being of our troops is always prominent in my mind.


I hear what you're saying. However, are you telling me that there is a defficiency in the global legal opium supply?

Flooding the legal market with Afghan opium would cause prices (the value of a kilo of raw opimium).

This would further discourage Afghan legal production and it might encourage a shift from legal to illegal somewhere else - like Turkey - where some other insidious form of narco-terrorism would arise.

Plus, I think that you should give the Afghanis more credit for being intelligent people. If you're simply paying them for opium and then burning the opium, they will figure out.


I just heard a report on CNN saying that U.S. forces will be gradually withdrawn into those "superbases" we've been building in Iraq to lower their profile. Exactly how does this line up with Rumsfeld's "transformation" of the military? What kind of small war doctrine is this? It sounds more like what might be called the Custer Doctrine that we used on the Great Plains. Fort Apache returns! At least in the 1860s and 1870s, the U.S. Army was forted up on its own soil. I'm confused about what this, if it's true, is supposed to accomplish. I think these people have well and truly lost their minds.

W. Patrick Lang


The military posts in tha West in the 1860s and 1870s were patrol bases.

The Army was not "forted up" in them.

In contrast to that, a withdrawal of forces to a series of defended air bases in Iraq would amount to the creation of a series of defended and isolated "islands." pl


The American approach to drug use is to attack supply and suppliers. It has failed disastrously at home and abroad. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world and some of the lowest illegal drug prices. Isn’t the market wonderful? If we wish to do anything serious about the long-term problem, the demand side of the equation must be dealt with first. The approach we are taking towards Afghani opium is the same one we took with Colombian cocaine. In Columbia we have failed disastrously and there is no reason to think that we won’t fail again in Afghanistan. The Afghani farmers who are heavily armed, deeply religious, and fiercely nationalistic are not going to let us burn their crops or poison them with pesticides without retaliating bloodily and effectively against us. Afghanistan is a really big place. We have very few American and client state troops in country. There little chance that even a very aggressive campaign against opium farmers will seriously dent the supply and, paradoxically, if we did dent the supply, the inevitable rise in opium prices would keep the flow of money to the Taliban /warlords at the present rate or even higher. We are embarking on a policy that is bound to be either ineffective or, more likely, counterproductive, which is par for the course for our regime of rule by the dumbest and the dimmest.
A saner policy would be to pay the Afghani farmers generous subsidies to not grow opium and pay large bribes to the tribal leaders to aggressively pursue and punish those that do. We should adopt the ancient Imperial policy of “ If you can’t beat em. Bribe em.”
Not that this will end the bloodshed in Afghanistan directed against us. There will be those pious and honest souls who will never rest until the last kafir is driven out from Afghani soil. As long as we are in Afghanistan, we will pay for our presence in American blood.



"However, are you telling me that there is a defficiency in the global legal opium supply?"

Actually, yes. My understanding is that due to historical biases in common medical practice opiates are far less used than current pain management practices suggest that they should be. I hasten to add that I am not a physician, so one's mileage may vary, but I have been told this independently by a number of physicians.

On the economic side, my view is that it's far from clear what might happen to the price delivered to the agricultural producer, given that the current market is so heavily distorted by production controls and criminal activity.

I agree that the Afghanis are highly intelligent - let's not burn the product, let's actually use it and use that as a means of more firmly embedding Afghanistan in a modern global system. We'll know we've succeeded when we have our first tariff dispute over the price of raw opium... ;)


On a related note, I observe that The Battle of Algiers is actually available on DVD in a 2004 re-release (all the online reatailers seem to carry it). After all these years of reading about it I'll actually have to see it.


I didn’t think you were being sarcastic...I was just trying to keep the topic focused on it being a tool to combat the insurgency which benefits the lives of the troops. Sorry, if I gave you impression I doubted you sincerity.

The feasibility link I gave pointed out the ban on opium production hasn’t proved to be successful. That’s because its success depends on the co-operation of Afghans involved in the industry to look to other forms of livelihood. Opium is a very important ingredient in medical pain killers such as morphine. There is a great deal of material at http://www.senliscouncil.net/modules/publications/008_publication>Senliscouncil about the viability of licensing opium growing.

All of the crops the Afghans could grow would be converted to needed medical use. Because it would be put to good use, I don’t see licensing it as flooding the market. I could be wrong? The growers would be providing a useful product and could take pride in what they produce. I never did envision the opium as being burned.

Glad to hear your son is looking forward to his jumper training. My Stepfather told me he enjoyed the tranquil feeling of floating in the air on the way back to earth.


Oops...Dave we were posting at the same time and I have repeated some of your comments.


Don't know what you mean by "low level." Looks like pretty frisky level to me if it happens. pl

Posted by: W. Patrick Lang | 26 April 2006 at 05:44 PM

I meant, not all out open battle, with nukes and missles thrown at each other.

but, special forces, saboteur, trainers, propaganda officers, diplomats, trade reps. that sort of stuff.

Iran obviously is winning in the opening salvo, since the oil price is tilting to their favor.

If Pentagon is not calculating the effect of high oil price on long term mission viability, Then we got some serious idiots running around, thinking we can afford $80B+ annual expenditure after full recession sets in.

and we are not talking about oil instalation around the world suddenly popping like plump cherry yet.

Those trans-eurasia pipe better not pop under any circumstances, or we'll see $75+/barrel easy


Dave and Canuck,
I honestly don't see where there is a lack of supply of legal opium; certainly not anywhere near to the extent that you could base an entire country's economy on its production.

Furthermore, I agree rpe that the problem with the illegal drug trade is not there are drugs in the world, but that there are many people willing to pay large amounts of money to consume them.

As long as such demand exists there will be those willing to take the risk to deliver the supply, regardless of the official penalties.

So forget stamping out illegal drug trade in Afghanistan.

We could work directly with the opium producers like we did with the Meo in Laos, but I think the best thing for our troops is to leave nation building to situations where the environment is right. I don't see Afghanistan as such a place. It was right to go there and kill AQ members and disrupt terrorist training camps.

It was right to bring in Karzai. It is probably right to send aid.

Yet, I don't see any fundementals for economic or social growth in the country. Too much of the land is too poor for farming. The land lacks other profitable natural resources.

We should bring the troops home and leave Afghanistan to the Afghanis, albeit with the firm understanding that we will return at first sign of militant anti-Americanism being permitted in the country.

I don't see a counterinsurgency effort there as being long term sustainable or effective given the opium situation and the lack of viable economic alternatives.



My understanding is that legal opium production is about 10% of global production. Of the illegal production, the vast, vast majority (I believe it is in excess of 90%) comes from Afghanistan. The bulk of legal consumption comes from quite a small number of industrialized countries. I don't know whether legal consumption could be boosted in the industrialized world to cover the entire current illegal production, but even moderate increased penetration into the developing world could make a significant difference. Collectively, this may well be enough to make some managed production system viable.

I do not believe that we have the option of withdrawing from Afghanistan. Based on the accounts I've been seeing from Afghanistan, militant anti-Americanism already exists in not terribly small amounts. Contrary to the situation in Iraq, I do think that a sustained COIN programme is possible - particularly given some of the new NATO commitments. I agree that the counter-narcotics strategy is central, but I'm unwilling to say a priori that the situation is hopeless. COIN takes a long, long time and we're in very early stages - the whole point of Col. Lang's original post is that the US Army has largely not had nor practiced a COIN doctrine until recently. (For the record, neither do we Canucks, apparently, but there has been by all accounts an awful lot of self-education going on over the past few years. Much of the quotes I've read coming out of Kandahar sounds quite reminiscent of the documentation above.)

W. Patrick Lang


I agree that a COIN program played out over a long time with patience and subtlety could work in Afghanistan. pl


Col. I have no doubt that we could militarily continue to dominate anti-American/terrorist/Taliban forces; probably indefinitely given a continued force presence in Afghanistan.

But what happens when we leave? With what do we entice the Afghanis to our PoV? How do we show them a better way? I am genuinely interested in hearing your suggestions.

Unlike you, I have spent the bulk of my adult life *not* in the service. And when I was in the service I did not gain experience in the nuances of COIN operations. So I'm inclined to defer to your expertise in these matters. However, I have been formally educated in the field of economics and have invested a number of years working in that field. It is from that perspective that I commented on the lack of viablility of nation building in Afghanistan.

BTW, I do not actually advocate leaving Afghanistan at this time because I think that our presence there will be required to deal with an impending uprising in the frontier provinces of Pakistan that border Afghanistan.

W. Patrick Lang


I would not venture to say that ours is a "better way." The most I would say is that it is our way.

The Afghans are what they are. Why should they change to be like us? Of course, this is a Special Forces soldier talking. SF has always sought to work with people as they are rather than perform missionary work amongst them.

I have participated in trying to get various commercial enterprises started in the infrastucture field in Afghanistan. What I have found is that the various Afghan peoples are quite happy with their ancestral ways, do not want Taliban rule back and are not willing to do things our way.

I think we should leave them to their own ways, build up the ability of the tribes to defend themselves against the Taliban and AQ and do business with people in the country in a robustly capitalist way. pl


"...build up the ability of the tribes to defend themselves against the Taliban and AQ..."

Therein lies the key.

Do they really want to not join the ranks of AQ and/or Taliban.

If the answer is yes, then I sppose you are on the right track.

Bill Meara

Interesting topic and blog. I just published a book that I think you guys would be interested in. It is about counterinsurgency (and Contra insurgency!). Please forgive this shameless plug, but I do think it would be of interest to readers of this blog.
Check it out: http://www.contracross.com


Readers here are quite familiar with the results of the Opium Wars on China.
With most estimates stating that there are well over two million opiate addicts in Iran, could the further flooding of opiates by Afghanistan including heroin assist in the de - stabilization of Iran?
Or are the addicts so much on the fringe that any effect similar be minimal? Please be aware know I'm asking strictly in the realm of the hypothetical, of course. Not to mention drug addiction already is on the rise in Iraq.
Iran Focus

Tehran, Iran, Sep. 24 – A report by the United Nations has found that Iran has the highest drug addiction rate in the world, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

“According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2005, Iran has the highest proportion of opiate addicts in the world -- 2.8 percent of the population over age 15”, the Post wrote.

According to the daily, only two other countries - Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan - pass the 2 percent addiction-rate mark.

“With a population of about 70 million and some government agencies putting the number of regular users close to 4 million, Iran has no real competition as world leader in per capita addiction to opiates, including heroin”.

The Post added that a government poll had shown that almost 80 percent of Iranians believed that there was a direct link between unemployment and drug addiction.


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