Global terrorism and international drug trafficking are partners. If we are to win the war against the terrorists, we must also win the war against the drug lords.
The most recent United Nations report on drug production in Afghanistan concluded that opium production generated $2.3 billion in 2003. This report also acknowledged that al Qaeda and the Taliban generate revenue from Afghan drug production. It is clear from these and other field reports that the resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan and, indeed, in other parts of the world, is at least partly funded from illegal drug trafficking. If the international community fails to adequately address this narco-terrorist threat, democracy and stability in Afghanistan will fail and the threat of narco-terrorism likely will spread.
When coalition forces in Afghanistan discover arms caches, they often find indications of drug trafficking, such as opium stores, safe houses, and information that reflects the methods by which drugs and terrorists move in and out of Afghanistan.
A conservative assumption that the terrorists take 10 percent of the Afghan drug profits means they generated at least $200 million in 2003 from drug trafficking alone. Despite their defeat on the battlefield, the terrorists continue generating revenue to fuel their worldwide operations.
The relationship between Afghan drug trafficking and terrorism is real and growing. A tenet of the war on terror is understanding that the international community must combat the terrorists’ ability to generate revenue to fund their operations, logistics, travel and weapons procurement. So long as they are able to freely generate these funds, their efforts to buy weapons, information, logistical support and, perhaps, weapons of mass destruction will remain unhindered. Ominously, other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jemaah Islamiah and state actors such as North Korea are learning drug trafficking provides large amounts of cash for other nefarious purposes.
Terrorists generate revenue from drug trafficking with frightening ease. In Afghanistan, for example, they generate revenue by “taxing” farmers and local officials a percentage of the revenue from opium production. Additional revenue comes from taxing the transportation or processing of the opium or, alternatively, providing transportation for hire.
The routes by which the traffickers move drugs throughout Afghanistan are similar, and sometimes, identical, to the routes by which terrorists move and operate. Historically, Afghan-produced opium was transported to Europe and Russia north through the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Additionally, drugs are moved east through Iran and west through Pakistan. Proceeds are not deposited in regulated financial institutions, but, rather, the informal “banks” al Qaeda continues using to move its resources.
The tools the international community uses to combat drug trafficking are identical to those needed to combat this terrorist resurgence. For example, 11 nations work together in the Caribbean with U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, the intelligence community and the Defense Department to collect, analyze and disseminate information on the clandestine movement of ships, planes and people possibly carrying drugs.
This effort, led by the United States’ Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, Fla., includes a unique international cooperation. Under this headquarters, nations pool resources ships, planes and law enforcement, intelligence and military resources to locate suspect shipments and interdict them for prosecution.
Likewise, collaboration between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Thai military, police and intelligence forces has been remarkably successful in combating the flow of drugs into Thailand and the rest of the world.
A similar international effort to interdict drug, arms and other clandestine movements in Afghanistan is possible. With training and equipment, Afghan security forces can patrol areas of ungoverned space within the country. These forces collect drug trafficking information and send it to regional intelligence analysis centers, which transmit the timely information to Afghan and/or international security forces for interdiction.
The British government assumed leadership for the international effort to combat Afghan drug trafficking. Not only does Great Britain suffer directly from the use of Afghan-produced opium, but Prime Minister Tony Blair also recognized drug trafficking is an obstacle to President Karzai’s efforts to establish security throughout Afghanistan.
British efforts include training and equipping Afghan security forces to combat drug trafficking. Obviously, those skills are equally useful for combatting terrorists.
The Bush administration should be commended for supporting Afghan and British efforts to combat this narco-terrorist threat. As part of the Iraq-Afghanistan supplemental, the administration requested and received $243 million for the Departments of State and Defense to train and equip selected Afghan Police and Army personnel. These personnel are to collect, analyze and disseminate information and combat the traffickers.
Just as importantly, these forces can likewise detect, monitor and interdict the movement of arms and terrorists. International forces in Afghanistan, including those of the United States, must be willing to act upon this information, however, for this investment to bear fruit.
Stability and establishment of the rule of law are prerequisites for social development in Afghanistan. The need to establish this type of security before the international community can begin substantive development cannot be overstated. Alternative development, no matter how promising, cannot work so long as the symbols of sovereignty — police, courts, military and the rule of law — do not exist. Without security, people will not cooperate with alternative development efforts. The narco-terrorists will be free to retaliate against the nongovernmental organization personnel who attempt to improve life in the countryside.
A prime example of security leading to development is taking place in Colombia. U.S. and international efforts to promote alternative livelihoods in Colombia are generating success as a result of the improved security provided by the Colombian government. U.S. Agency for International Development efforts to convince Colombian farmers not to grow cocoa worked only when there was a cost to noncompliance — the enforcement of law. As a result, for the first time, the U.N. and the United States report Colombian cocoa production has fallen. The decreased cocoa production and U.S.-backed efforts to increase Colombian sovereignty have decreased the resources available to the narco-terrorists in Colombia. The Colombian economy is growing and professionalism, and respect for the rule of law has increased.
International efforts to assist Colombia and other countries are a useful template for international assistance to Afghanistan. By assisting Afghan government efforts to establish security through drug trafficking interdiction, we help establish sovereignty and the rule of law throughout Afghanistan and, indeed, the region. In addition, counter-narco-terrorism efforts impede generation of significant terrorist revenues to support their worldwide operations.
Andre Hollis is a Washington lawyer specializing in homeland security issues. He was deputy assistant defense secretary for counternarcotics from 2001 to 2003.
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