Why Do We Persist in Trying to Turn Afghanistan Into Colombia?

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by Joshua Foust on 8/28/2009 · 8 comments

I just don’t know how to square this circle:

As the United States retools its counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan, officials are looking to Colombia for lessons.

The two nations share many burdens: Colombia is the largest supplier of cocaine in the world, Afghanistan of opium. Both have impoverished rural communities easily enticed into trafficking webs. Both are vulnerable to the sway and command of insurgent groups that finance their fight with proceeds from the drug trade…

For example, instead of pouring money into crop eradication as it did in Colombia, the new US strategy in Afghanistan will phase out eradication, and place a new emphasis on the interdiction of opium shipments and encouraging farmers to adopt alternate crops.

This is treating the drug campaign in Afghanistan as if it didn’t exist before this year. The quest to turn Afghanistan into Colombia is several years old at this point—and since importing a vigorous eradication team from Bogota didn’t work, I guess now they’re trying to replicate all that success they’ve had in interdicting Colombian cocaine.

The smuggling organizations are well-established and sophisticated. They have a recognized hierarchy and employ the latest technology, said Rafael Reyes, chief of global enforcement operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration… Reyes said that means factoring in the possibility a certain percentage of drugs will be seized by federal agents: “They’ll line up 10 loads, and if you pick off two or three, well, that’s the cost of doing business, ‘I got seven across.’ So it’s that shotgun mentality.”

The same thinking applies to drugs smuggled in the waters of the eastern Pacific off the coasts of Central and South America.

Am I reading that to wrong if I think it says the DEA admits it can only stop 20-30% of the drugs being smuggled into the U.S.? I couldn’t find a single news source that claims American success in reducing the amount of cocaine being shipped from Colombia to the United States; all the interdiction efforts have done is raise the cost of shipping cocaine to the U.S.—which ultimately results in more profit for the drug runners (at least one Mexican official estimates the drug cartels make $64 billion a year).

So… why do we want to take that model and export it to Central Asia? Anyone?

Can we please stop trying to turn Afghanistan into Colombia?

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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RScott August 28, 2009 at 11:40 am

The initial approach in 2002 in central Helmand where most of the opium is produced was a follow on to the early international promises of a massive reconstruction program: putting the people to work for pay on their own irrigation systems, support for the traditional cash crop markets including cotton in the context of farmers agreeing(in writing) to eliminate opium poppy cultivation, which they consider an evil crop. Support for the cotton industry included some badly needed spare parts for the 1960s cotton gin from an Atlanta supplier. The gin continues to function without help.This was combined with a timely eradication program just after planting season for the few farmers who did not listen, and in time to replant with the legitimate winter crop. A farmer friendly approach. The result in Nad-i-Ali, some 30,000 acres of irrigated land, was a reduction of 85% in that one crop year followed by a cut in funding for the activity, to be restarted a year later, again to be cut. Once the narcs got involved and in control, the approach changed to “enforcement” and the rule of non-existent law which limits the nature of police actions…thus the Columbian approach…which did not and will not work.

anan August 28, 2009 at 12:55 pm

“Why Do We Persist in Trying to Turn Afghanistan Into Colombia?” Because we not be smart. {My attempt at SNLII haiku.}

Dick August 29, 2009 at 6:23 pm

If you eliminate Afganistan’s opium trade, who would finanace CIA “black-ops?”

anan August 29, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Dick, I don’t follow. Care to explain?

robina creaser August 30, 2009 at 12:54 am

I don`t believe that you cannot understand Dick. It is public knowledge that the CIA in S America and Afghanistan have been intimately involved in the drug trade – to finance their own violence ;and to pay `insurgents` to perpetuate `terrorist` acts to achieve their Machiavellian goals; and simply to make a lot of money for the agents who have gone feral.
What, are you pretending this is news to you ?

David M August 31, 2009 at 9:50 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/31/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

anan August 31, 2009 at 1:03 pm

“the CIA in S America and Afghanistan have been intimately involved in the drug trade – to finance their own violence ;”
The US intelligence budget (CIA + NSA + DIA + other agencies) is over $40 billion a year. Drug trade profits are a drop in the bucket compared to that. What CIA agent would break their oath and Congressional laws for a few bucks? Some might, but not many.

“to pay `insurgents` to perpetuate `terrorist` acts to achieve their Machiavellian goals; and simply to make a lot of money for the agents who have gone feral.” How does terrorism benefit America? America and the world has a strong interest in stability and security . . . because it results in lower risk premiums, faster technological innovation, and faster global economic growth.

robina creaser September 9, 2009 at 9:43 am

@ anan `America.. has a strong interest in stability and security`
says who ?
//The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.Italy was a distant second, with $3.7 billion in worldwide weapons sales in 2008.
The United States was the leader not only in arms sales worldwide, but also in sales to nations in the developing world, signing $29.6 billion in weapons agreements with these nations, or 70.1 percent of all such deals.// NYT Sept 6th
There is no money in peace for the US – Arms is the most successful business by far.
CIA agents do drug biz so they have money to carry out ops without funding (or approval obviously); plus they have to pay their local allies, who are generally drug lords.sweet 🙂

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