Poppy growing is endemic in the countryside, and Afghanistan now produces 92 percent of the world’s opium. But until recently, American officials acknowledge, fighting drugs was considered a distraction from fighting terrorists.So, you would think that the U.S. and Afghanistan officials would do something about all this. And you would be only somewhat correct.
The State Department and Pentagon repeatedly clashed over drug policy, according to current and former officials who were interviewed. Pentagon leaders refused to bomb drug laboratories and often balked at helping other agencies and the Afghan government destroy poppy fields, disrupt opium shipments or capture major traffickers, the officials say.
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and military leaders also played down or dismissed growing signs that drug money was being funneled to the Taliban, the officials say.
And the C.I.A. and military turned a blind eye to drug-related activities by prominent warlords or political figures they had installed in power, Afghan and American officials say.
Not so long ago, Afghanistan was trumpeted as a success, a country freed from tyranny and Al Qaeda. But as the Taliban’s grip continues to tighten, threatening Afghanistan’s future and the fight against terrorism, Americans and Afghans are increasingly asking what went wrong. To that, some American officials say that failing to disrupt the drug trade was a critical strategic mistake.
But while new Afghan drug prosecutors are charging hundreds of messengers and truck drivers with drug offenses, major dealers, often with ties both to government officials and the Taliban, operate virtually at will.You see, it's very difficult for a corrupt government to do much about corrupt government, and here we have two corrupt governments in a situation where they should do something about their corruption if they want to succeed in defeating their enemies. Unfortunately, their number two enemy is themselves.
An American counternarcotics official in Washington said a classified list late last year developed by several United States agencies identified more than 30 important Afghan drug suspects, including at least five government officials. But they are unlikely to be actively sought anytime soon, several American officials caution.
In part, that is because the Afghan drug prosecutors are eager, but their legal skills are weak. “You look at the indictments, and it looks like a sixth grader wrote it,” said Rob Lunnen, a Salt Lake City federal prosecutor assisting the Afghan drug task force.
Another American prosecutor said, “If we try to go after deputy ministerial or ministerial level corruption cases, then you are not going to have a system that can handle it, and they would just get released.”