- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The spring opium harvest will soon begin in Afghanistan. So will a murderous spring offensive by the Taliban and its allies against U.S. and coalition troops. The two events are directly related, for the Taliban and the warlords are funded by the billions of dollars deriving from the massive, illegal opium trade.

The deteriorating security in Afghanistan has been made possible by the opium crop’s skyrocketing expansion. Much of the money is used to buy sophisticated weapons for the Taliban and warlords, pay their fighters, purchase supplies, bribe Afghan and Pakistani officials and provide an impoverished population with the means to earn a living and thereby secure their allegiance and support.

Seen in this context, it is clear that U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are battling more than merely a few thousand militants. They are at war with an expanding narco-state that extends throughout the country. Without this support, our enemies would be hard-pressed to operate, much less continue increasing their numbers and firepower. Given this reality, the odds against success are lengthening.

After five years of sustained U.S. effort in Afghanistan, it should be apparent to all that our strategy has not succeeded. Yet as a new approach is about to be rolled out, it does not appear that those formulating this new proposal fully understand that the Taliban and its allies cannot be defeated without also targeting their principal source of financing — the illegal drug trade.

Our anti-narcotics policy has long been hobbled by conflicting views and bureaucratic battles between the various players, including the Departments of Defense and State, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other U.S. agencies, along with our NATO allies, especially the British. There is little prospect these long-entrenched divisions will be reconciled by themselves.

To encourage the administration to focus on this central problem, I and four of my colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommending a number of steps be taken immediately, including:

• Appointing a high-level coordinator of Afghan narco-terrorism policy to create and lead a unified campaign against drugs and terror that utilizes all U.S. agencies, assets and assistance, as we are doing successfully in Colombia.

• Implementing a new DEA “ride-along” policy with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and our own military forces on the ground in Afghanistan in order to combine ongoing U.S. and NATO military operations when these overlap with those of the DEA.

• Extraditing to the U.S. major drug kingpins and drug warlords, using a new narco-terrorism provision in the USA PATRIOT Act that makes the use of illicit drugs to support acts of terrorism or foreign terrorist organizations a federal crime. Extradition has worked well in Colombia, and can work in Afghanistan.

• Expediting training by the Colombian National Police’s elite anti-narcotics unit, which visited Afghanistan last year, of their Afghan counterparts. We were pleased to see Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, note recently the key role our Colombian allies, and U.S. experience in Colombia, can play in the fight against illicit drugs in Afghanistan.

• Helping develop and facilitate trade promotion and increased trade-building capacity for Afghan products and industries in order to increase exports and create legitimate livelihoods in place of illicit opium farming and production today.

Of course, these recommendations must be part of a much broader effort that includes a greatly enhanced effort by Pakistan to secure its tribal areas and the president’s proposals to increase funding for roads, rural electrification, alternative livelihood programs, and training for security forces. But without a comprehensive counternarcotics policy, these efforts by themselves are unlikely to succeed.

The problem with our strategy in Afghanistan is not primarily one of resources, but of policy. Our enemies draw their strength not merely from their weapons and their fanaticism, but from the opium in the fields as well.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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