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In June, as a result of President Barack Obama’s strategic review of U.S.- Afghanistan policy, the United States began to implement a new strategy for dealing with Afghanistan's opium poppy and heroin trade. Phasing out the practice of poppy eradication, or destroying the crops in the fields, which has proven ineffective, they began to concentrate on interdiction efforts, or attacking the warehouses and drug bazaars controlled by powerful drug lords.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, who recently returned from a trip to the region that included a visit to Afghanistan, called this "one of the most important policy shifts of the United States" since President Barack Obama assumed power on January 20th.
Coalition forces will no longer destroy individual poppy fields, said Ambassador Holbrooke. "All we did was alienate poppy farmers who were poor farmers, who were growing the best cash crop they could. ... The Afghan farmers are not our enemy. The Taliban are."
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which is operating in southern Afghanistan, unequivocally reiterated this sentiment in a recent press conference. "... We're not involved in eradication. You will never see Marines out there plowing fields, digging…that's not why we're here. That's not what we're doing."
During his trip to Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said Ambassador Holbrooke, he saw the first indications that it might work:
"And those indications came from the British and American forces in Helmand, where they targeted interdiction and made interdiction their goal and they went after drug dealers. And using modern technologies, they located what they called drug bazaars, marketplaces which sold drug paraphernalia, precursor chemicals, laboratory equipment, poppy seeds and there were vast amounts of opium, nice fluffy poppy, to buy and sell, and they destroyed them."
Along with interdiction, the U.S. will invest hundreds of millions of dollars to help support Afghan agriculture, said Ambassador Holbrooke:
"The most well-received change in American policy has been our dramatic upgrade of agriculture. ... Everywhere I went, the realization was just beginning to dawn that we were going to put hundreds of millions of dollars into agriculture from the agricultural development teams in some of the provinces run by the national guards of states like Texas ... to the more formal agricultural efforts that we have, which are a combined integrated AID-U.S. Department of Agriculture team ... after all, it’s an agricultural country."
"I see this all interconnected," said Ambassador Holbrooke. "Getting rid of crop eradication, increasing interdiction, which is what really hurts the drug kingpins ... and the Taliban," ... and helping the 80 percent of the population that works in agriculture.