We’ve had enough of those pesky poppies in Afghanistan:
The U.S. military bombed about 300 tons of poppy seeds in a dusty field in southern Afghanistan Tuesday in a dramatic show of force designed to break up the Taliban’s connection to heroin.
The air strike occurred mid-day in Helmand province and was observed by CNN’s Ivan Watson, who is embedded with the U.S. Marines operating in that province.
The military dropped a series of 1,000-pound bombs from planes on the mounds of poppy seeds and then followed with strikes from helicopters.
That’s right, we dropped “a series” of half-ton bombs on a pile of seeds. Then, apparently because those stubborn seeds hadn’t learned their lesson yet, the helicopters were brought in to completely break their will. Kidding aside, here was the real explanation for this exercise in elaborate destruction:
Tony Wayne, with the U.S. State Department, said the strikes on poppy seeds, that can be used to make opium and heroin, is part of a strategy shift for the military to stop the Taliban and other insurgents from profiting from drugs.
So there have been changes recently to our strategy for combatting the opium trade. We’re no longer eradicating opium fields – a move that has done nothing more than impoverish farmers and drive them to the Taliban. Instead, we’re targeting more high level traffickers and trying to root out corruption. We’re also attempting to get Afghan farmers to grow alternate crops.
These strategies will have various levels of short-term success. Those successes will be highly publicized in the media, even as very little will change in the overall picture. As we take out traffickers and corrupt officials, new traffickers will take their place and raise enough money from the heroin trade to be able to corrupt more government officials. And as we are successful at moving some farmers away from growing opium, new ones will take their place (often forced by traffickers and corrupt government officials). In a country where the opium trade is small and the state has some semblance of centralized power, a strategy like this might make a difference over time. In a country like Afghanistan, where the trade in poppies is over 1/3 of the national GDP, and where the central government of Hamid Karzai (whose own brother is involved in the trade) has little power over much of the nation, it likely won’t work for decades, if at all.
So I’m not sure what Wayne thinks this bombing exercise will accomplish. Did they take a bunch of captured drug traffickers to the bombing site and taunt them by saying “look what we’re doing to your precious seeds!”? And even if they did, so what? I’ve occasionally seen news reports that try to equate participating in the opium trade as being a similar dynamic to an actual addiction to heroin, as if people who make money from the trade aren’t people making rational decisions to violate the law to make shitloads of money, but people with a drug problem who can’t help themselves. But there’s no chemical or psychological attachment to those seeds. It’s a commodity that the traffickers have to replace. To them, once American forces confiscate those seeds, it doesn’t matter whether we blow them up or put them on our bagels. They’re gone and they’ll have to find new ones.
There just isn’t a logical explanation for why you would rain massive bombs from the sky like this onto plant matter. It’s just a sign of utter frustration. It reminds me of the scene in Office Space where the three fed-up mouse jockeys take a baseball bat to the printer that never worked right:
The frustration is certainly warranted. Afghanistan will remain a no-win situation as long as international drug policies (which have been overwhelmingly dictated by the U.S. over the years) continue to keep the demand for heroin so high and as long as our fragile relations with nations like Iran and Pakistan force us into this failing strategy. But it would be hard to think of a single thing that’s more strategically backwards than this. The Afghan population already thinks we’re too eager to employ aerial bombings. I don’t think bombing a pile of seeds in air raid fashion is a good way to reverse that image. In fact, it makes us look crazy. And perhaps we are.