November 6, 2008 3:41PM

DEA in Afghanistan

As Ted Galen Carpenter has noted, the War on Drugs is active in Afghanistan. Below is a photo from the DEA website of Special Agents burning a bunker of hashish in Afghanistan. Repeat: These guys are DEA agents, not U.S. soldiers.

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There is an undeniable connection between the narcotics trade and Taliban funding. However, any drug eradication should be pursued as a means of resource denial to insurgents, not as a goal in and of itself. We have to be smart about this. A major portion of Afghanistan’s GDP comes from the opium poppy trade – half in 2007, though down significantly this year. The quickest way to create an insurgent is to destroy a man’s livelihood. Opium eradication for its own sake will make the central government and Coalition forces increasingly unpopular and feed the insurgency.

The addition of the DEA into the equation makes this continued loss of rapport more likely. Some might make the case for having a good cop/​bad cop strategy when dealing with local farmers – “tell us where the Taliban are or we’ll let the DEA torch your crops” – which would be persuasive if NATO troops weren’t already engaged in drug eradication. The addition of an agency with narcotics prohibition as its sole reason for existence guarantees that a focus on opium will continue with greater intensity and long after outliving its limited military utility.

For additional background, read this.