A quick follow-up on my post below. I’ve been thinking about that NATO opiate loophole. To refresh the memory: it’s the rule of engagement that says American and other forces are only allowed to go after Taliban related opium production facilities and smugglers. My initial response was to make fun of NATO and ISAF, and question what seems like a ridiculous restriction.
Then I put my Afghan drug-running warlord cap on, and I saw a great business opportunity. If I was an Afghan drug warlord who knew the U.S. was only after Taliban heroin pushers, I’d be the first in line to tell the Americans where the bad “Taliban-related facilities” and opium fields were. These “Taliban related facilities” would, coincidentally, be run by my competitors in the opium trade. Yes, I’d make sure to give the NATO folks real good intel on all the whereabouts of the evil Taliban druggies, and thank them graciously for helping me increase my opium market share, er, I mean, make my country safe from terrorists.
(Of course, as a Good Drug Smuggling Warlord, my definition of Taliban would be “guys I don’t like.” If you think I’m exaggerating, it’s a common story in both Iraq and Afghanistan–locals feeding bad intel to the U.S. to get the Americans to settle their feuds for them. A soldier who was involved in the Surge in the Sunni Triangle summed it up like so: “Our platoon had a joke about our Iraqi Security Forces, and who the ISF said was Al Qaeda in Iraq. The ISF definition for AQI was: “Other Iraqis that owe us money.”)
This bit of War Nerd-like imagining led to another, more conspiratorial, line of thinking. It’s fairly well known that elements of the official Afghan government are heavily connected to the drug trade. Ergo, that NATO rule of engagement may be necessary because it gives the Americans and our NATO allies a loophole to get out of detaining or killing the relatives of Afghan government officials and destroying their property or business interests. To put it another way: NATO needs to make a distinction between the two, the good druggies versus the bad druggies, otherwise they’d be attacking the government they’re supporting. On retrospect, maybe it’s not such a silly rule after all…