Dexter Filkins has a nice on-scener from Afghanistan in the NYT today, complete with the prerequisite bang-bang. What’s interesting are the number of obvious contradictions/problems in the strategy that we need to overcome to pull off this war against the poppies. Here’s a few of them:
#1: Ingratiating ourselves with the locals while simultaneously taking away their most profitable cash crop.
#2: Even if we do cut down on the supply, the shortage of opium will drive the price up, so it won’t hurt the Taliban’s bottomline.
#3: The huge difficulty of getting the locals on your side during periods of “heavy fighting” in their backyard(ie, blowing shit up, shooting Taliban neighbors and local teens caught up in the action, etc.) And Filkins says that, with great understatement, the population isn’t very supportive right now: “The locals, caught between the foes, seem, at best, to be waiting to see who prevails.”
Another highlight of the piece that jumped out: the bizarro NATO restrictions.
Under NATO rules of engagement, American or other forces are prohibited from attacking targets or people related only to narcotics production. Those people are not considered combatants…But American and other forces are allowed to attack drug smugglers or facilities that are assisting the Taliban.
That sounds fairly, uh, impossible to figure out. You’re a good drug factory ’cause you only sell poppies to non-Taliban affiliated warlords? You’re a bad drug factory because you sell dope to Mullah Omar? (The military official quoted in the piece says that they can tell because bad drug factories have “IED” making materials and weapons. Hmmm. If I ran a drug smuggling operation in Afghanistan, no matter what “side” I was on, I’d make sure to have plenty of weapons, explosives, nearby. I’m just saying.)
I would bet that the American soldiers and Marines think that restriction is a total joke. The general opinion of NATO–almost unanimous from the troops on the ground to the highest American ranks–is that many of the NATO restrictions are silly, stupid, and unhelpful. The NATO forces there fight under the acrynom ISAF, International Security Assistance Force. The nickname for ISAF among U.S. troops is: “I Suck At Fighting.” Or, sometimes: “In Sandals and Flipflops.” Even General David McKiernan, who took over ISAF about nine months ago, said that he thought some of our NATO allies treated the war like “summer camp.”
Overall, does this strategy seem like it has a reasonable chance for success? Differing opinions welcome.