Marines pushing anti poppy campaign in Helmand

LA Times:

Under an awning set up at a tiny outpost guarded by U.S. Marines, the district governor of Nawa is pleading with three dozen solemn-looking farmers and village elders not to plant the crop that feeds the world heroin market.

Haji Abdul Manaf, a farmer and onetime leader in the fight against Russian occupiers, has several parts to his passionate anti-poppy pitch.

Moral: Planting an illegal crop puts you in collusion with criminals and violates the Koran. Practical: If Nawa continues to be known as the center of the poppy crop, outsiders like the Americans won't come here to build schools, clinics and roads.

And then the direct approach.

"If you grow poppy, we will catch you, destroy your crop and put you in jail!" shouted Manaf, as his audience stared impassively, some fingering worry beads, others nibbling on plates of garbanzo beans, raisins and tiny candies.

It is a speech that Manaf, at the behest of the Americans, makes frequently at open-air meetings of farmers and elders: sometimes in a shady spot in different marketplaces, sometimes at the Nawa district government center, once at the unfinished mansion of a now-jailed drug kingpin.

The district governor's appearances are part of a counter-narcotics strategy that has changed dramatically since the Bush administration but remains crucial to the war effort, particularly in Helmand province, the heart of the poppy-growing region.


When the Marines rode into Nawa in July, Taliban fighters, after two weeks of attacks, fled to a nearby community called Marja. U.S. and Afghan National Army forces are planning an assault on Marja akin to the U.S. assault on Fallouja, Iraq, in 2004.

U.S. officials believe that Marja has also become a center for drug-marketeers who seduce or coerce the farmers of Helmand province into growing poppy. Removing the Taliban from Marja would remove the narco-racketeers, leaving the farmers with no one to buy their poppy crop, officials say.

The message for farmers is blunt: Shift to wheat (or corn or grapes or another crop) because soon poppy will no longer be profitable. "By April, Marja will no longer exist," McCollough said.

I think he means the Taliban in Marja will not longer be in control. That they are now is move evidence of our inadequate force to space problem that more Marines should help cure.

Converting the farmers to wheat could help feed Afghanistan at the same time it dries ups resources for the Taliban. It is part of a forward looking logistic strategy that helps Afghanistan and harms its enemies.


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