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Aerial Poppy Spraying

Afghan farmers are skeptical of US/British tactics in the fight against opium, alleging that illegal aerial herbicide spraying is making children sick. The Afghan government found evidence of spraying, and Karzai filed a complaint with the US and British governments. According to the Independent, Karzai "grilled" the British ambassador, perhaps suspicious because "many in Washington have been pressing for aerial eradication to begin in Afghanistan... [and] advocates have lined up private US contractors who have already scoured the region looking for planes and pilots to hire for large-scale operations as early as next spring, before the poppy harvest begins." Robert Charles may be one of those "many:"

Officially, both U.S. and British diplomats insist that just as in the war on terror, Washington and London see exactly eye to eye on drug eradication. But at a House International Relations Committee hearing in February, a senior Bush administration official accused Britain of being squeamish about eradicating opium poppy fields before Afghan farmers had found other means of income.

"Our priority should not be some kind of misplaced sympathy for someone who will have to do a little bit more work to grow other, less-lucrative crops, such as wheat or barley," said Robert Charles, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement.

British officials believe the more robust U.S. approach, which also may involve crop-dusting raids, could simply alienate the very farmers they are trying to win over, by putting the stick too far ahead of the carrot. They also complain that the 18,000-strong U.S. military in Afghanistan has turned a blind eye to warlords' involvement in the opium trade in exchange for help against al Qaeda and Taliban remnants. [SF Chronicle]
The US has disclaimed responsibility or knowledge of the spraying, arguing that it "might have been done by drug lords to stir up tensions." The US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, "denied contracting the job to any company or agency."
"I can say categorically that the U.S. has not done it and the U.S. has not contracted or subcontracted anyone to do it," he said. He said he did not know who had done the spraying.

Yet the topic has been under discussion for some months, and the Americans have argued for chemical eradication, said officials involved in the counternarcotics program.
Barnett Rubin, in a 10/18/04 Council on Foreign Relations interview:
What is the Bush administration's policy?

They are talking about aerial crop eradication through spraying, as in Colombia. If they carry out that policy, the administration would destroy what we are trying to build. That would make the United States the enemy of the Afghan people. Everyone who works on drug trafficking internationally will tell you that, in formulating an anti-drug policy, the last thing you do is crop eradication. Bring in crop eradication when you have given people alternative livelihoods. That is the policy in countries where drugs are a marginal part of the economy. At this point, we are not offering the Afghans significant alternative livelihoods. We are aligning with some major traffickers who are allies in our war on terrorism. And meanwhile, we would destroy the livelihood of poor people with aerial spraying.

Is this going on now?

No. There is a policy battle over this right now. There are powerful people in this administration who are pushing for aerial spraying. That would destroy everything positive we are trying to do there. We do have to attack drugs. The Defense Department has been cautious on this. Troops were ordered not to do anything about it. A major commander, one of the main allies in the war on terrorism, was arrested with a truck full of heroin. He was taken to Bagram Air Base for three days and then was let go. He is back as a commander of one of the four major garrisons in the country. It was said then that "this is not our job." Now the United States is saying, "It is our job," but we are going about it in the wrong way.
The US has tight control of Afghanistan's air space.


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