With Afghan opium cultivation up 64% in 2004 over the previous year, far exceeding even the gravest predictions, the Pentagon is broadening the scope of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to allow direct involvement in drug enforcement. Writes the NY Times March 25:
Under modifications being made final for the military mission in
Afghanistan, U.S. forces would provide transportation for the
counternarcotics effort, because military troop helicopters and cargo
planes offer the only reliable and safe way to quickly move around the
country, according to senior Pentagon and military officials.
The military also would provide assistance in planning counternarcotics
missions, as well as supplying intelligence on traffickers and standing
ready to rescue Afghan police and Drug Enforcement Administration
officers who might be outgunned by drug lords and their private
militias, according to Pentagon and military officials.
Under previous guidelines, the U.S. military in Afghanistan was quite
consciously kept separate from anti-narcotics missions, and the 17,000
American troops deployed there were authorized to destroy drugs and
drug equipment, or seize it for Afghan authorities, only if it was
encountered in the course of military activities designed to rout
suspected terrorists and insurgents.
Of course the Times failed to note that the Afghan opium boom is largely the making of U.S. policy in the first place.
See our last post on Afghanistan.