Afghan government stands firm over spraying of poppy fields.

By Iseethefnords · Oct 8, 2007 · ·
  1. Iseethefnords

    KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S. government scientist has met Afghan officials to ease concerns over a herbicide that can be used to spray opium crops from the air, officials said on Monday, a policy the Afghan government has so far resisted.

    The Afghan government is under pressure to do more to tackle opium production after another record harvest in 2007. Afghanistan now makes 93 percent of the world's opium, with more land cultivating drugs than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru combined.
    The United States has advocated eradication of opium fields, many of them in Taliban rebel-held areas, using chemical herbicides sprayed from the air, but the Afghan government has rejected the idea, citing health concerns for residents.
    Dr. James Helling, senior scientific advisor to the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, met officials from the Afghan ministries of counter-narcotics, health, and rural rehabilitation on Sunday, officials said.
    His aim was to explain how glyphosate -- the herbicide used to destroy crops -- works, not to recommend it be used, an embassy official said.
    "He is here to explain what it is and how it works. He is here to discuss the science of glyphosate, not to persuade anyone they should be spraying from planes or anything," said the official who declined to be named.
    While those close to the talks said the scientist had stuck to speaking about the safety of glyphosate -- more commonly known as Roundup -- the implication was clear.
    "I think they believe that if they give the scientific evidence on this chemical they will be able to have another kind of debate on whether to use it," said a United Nations official speaking on condition of anonymity.

    U.S. officials argue strongly in favor of aerial spraying. "Aerial eradication is undoubtedly the most effective way," Thomas Schweich, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, told a news conference in Kabul in August.
    "You go in, you get large blocks of land in a very short period of time. You do it with minimal loss of life, since you don't have to fight your way in and you don't have to fight your way out. You don't ever negotiate with anybody," he said.
    But Britain, Afghanistan's lead international partner on drug eradication and the country with the most troops in the biggest opium-producing area, objects to the practice.
    "Our position is very clear. We see more disadvantages than advantages of aerial spraying," said a senior British diplomat. But, he said, "we are prepared to look at a trial of ground-based spraying if the government of Afghanistan wanted one."
    Aerial spraying would destroy food crops planted in and around opium, and the Taliban would also use it as propaganda, saying the spray poisons and kills children and livestock and thereby strengthen the insurgency, he said.
    The final decision on whether to go ahead with aerial spraying lies with the Afghan government which, for now at least, is standing firmly against it.
    "The Afghan government opposes this on two accounts, not only because of the health hazards, but we are also opposing this because we don't want to punish farmers," said Afghan presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.

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  1. Heretic.Ape.
    Because it's working so well elsewhere... and the US isn't pissing that region off enough yet.
  2. enquirewithin
    The article below gives one reason why spraying will only benefit a few US contractors. How would Americans feel if they had their farmland sprayed with poison?

    Sacked for 'corruption and drug-dealing', but warlord seeks return to power in Helmand

    By Kim Sengupta in Lashkar Gar
    [h4] Published: 09 October 2007[/h4] A former governor of the Afghan province of Helmand, who was sacked at Britain's insistence because of alleged corruption and drug-dealing, is on the verge of returning to the job. The Independent has learned that Sher Muhammed Akhunzada has managed to place allies in key official posts in the provincial administration and, according to Afghan officials and western diplomatic sources, is trying to undermine the current governor, Assadullah Wafa.

    The removal of Mr Akhunzada, who runs his own private army, is said to have been one of the pre-conditions for the deployment of British forces to Helmand in 2006. His reinstatement, if it takes place, is likely to cause serious problems for Britain, which has made Helmand the focus of its main military and financial commitment in Afghanistan. It would also raise further questions about President Hamid Karzai's judgement and his failure to deal with corrupt officials. Yesterday, Mr Wafa flew from Lashkar Gar, the the capital of Helmand, to Kabul to meet President Karzai to discuss his future. A suicide bombing which injured three civilians in Lashkar Gar a few hours before Mr Wafa left would strengthen the hands of critics who have complained about his failure to defeat the Taliban.

    The governor, who is elderly and in poor health, may well welcome a move from his high-pressure job in the frontline of the war against the Islamists and the drug-dealers who produce 50 per cent of Afghanistan's opium poppies. Mr Wafa has been at a disadvantage because he is from Spin Boldak, near Kandahar, and not a Helmand native. Mr Akhunzada, however, has strong roots in the area and, while governor, built up a reputation for tackling the Taliban – although some of his methods were extremely brutal.

    Mr Akhunzada has maintained close and cordial relations with President Karzai, who appointed him to parliament. He subsequently hired 500 mercenaries to buttress his power base in Helmand.

    Mr Karzai asked Mohammed Daoud, a British protégé, to replace Sher Mohammed as governor but also installed Mr Akhunzada's brother, Amir Muhammad Akhunzada, who is accused of assorted criminal acts. That decision was seen as an attempt to placate the Akhunzada family's powerful tribal following.

    However, Amir Muhammed was accused of constantly undermining Mr Daoud and later fired – to the consternation of the British. The machinations of the Akhunzadas were blamed for Mr Daoud's departure, although there were also claims the Americans played a part. They were said to be unhappy that Mr Daoud signed the Musa Qala agreement, under which British and Nato forces agreed to stay out of the town of Musa Qala in northern Helmand in return for tribal elders pledging to fight the Taliban.

    US officials, however, claim the Musa Qala deal was a sham which allowed hundreds of Taliban to move into the town in February this year. General Dan McNeill, who succeeded the British General David Richards as the leader of Nato forces in Afghanistan, reportedly said the treaty was "an intellectual mistake and a strategic disaster". Musa Qala district remains in Taliban hands. Hawks in Mr Karzai's cabinet want the area cleared but British commanders insist military action will only be sanctioned once a reconstruction programme is in place.

    It is unclear how Afghan security forces would react if the Akhunzadas return. When Mr Daoud was deposed, the then provincial police chief, Nabi Jan Mullahkhail, was asked how he would feel about serving under the brothers. "Rather than work for them, I would quite like to arrest them," he said. "They have been responsible for much of Helmand's misfortune."
  3. enquirewithin
    Afghans Pressed by U.S. on Plan to Spray Poppies

    KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 7 — After the biggest opium harvest in Afghanistan’s history, American officials have renewed efforts to persuade the government here to begin spraying herbicide on opium poppies, and they have found some supporters within President Hamid Karzai’s administration, officials of both countries said.

    Since early this year, Mr. Karzai has repeatedly declared his opposition to spraying the poppy fields, whether by crop-dusting airplanes or by eradication teams on the ground.
    But Afghan officials said the Karzai administration is now re-evaluating that stance. Some proponents within the government are pushing a trial program of ground spraying that could begin before the harvest next spring.

    The issue has created sharp divisions within the Afghan government, among its Western allies and even American officials of different agencies. The matter is fraught with political danger for Mr. Karzai, whose hold on power is weak.

    Many spraying advocates, including officials at the White House and the State Department, view herbicides as critical to curbing Afghanistan’s poppy crop, officials said. That crop and the opium and heroin it produces have become a major source of revenue for the Taliban insurgency.

    But officials said the skeptics — who include American military and intelligence officials and European diplomats in Afghanistan — fear that any spraying of American-made chemicals over Afghan farms would be a boon to Taliban propagandists. Some of those officials say that the political cost could be especially high if the herbicide destroys food crops that farmers often plant alongside their poppies.

    “There has always been a need to balance the obvious greater effectiveness of spray against the potential for losing hearts and minds,” Thomas A. Schweich, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics issues, said in an interview last week in Washington. “The question is whether that’s manageable. I think that it is.”

    Bush administration officials say they will respect whatever decision the Afghan government makes. Crop-eradication efforts, they insist, are only part of a new counternarcotics strategy that will include increased efforts against traffickers, more aid for legal agriculture and development, and greater military support for the drug fight.

    Behind the scenes, however, Bush administration officials have been pressing the Afghan government to at least allow the trial spray of glyphosate, a commonly used weed-killer, current and former American officials said. Ground spraying would likely bring only a modest improvement over the manual destruction of poppy plants, but officials who support the strategy hope it would reassure Afghans about the safety of the herbicide and make eradication possible.

    Aerial spraying, they add, may be the only way to make a serious impact on opium production while the Taliban continues to dominate parts of southern Afghanistan.

    On Sunday, officials said, a State Department crop-eradication expert briefed key members of Mr. Karzai’s cabinet about the effectiveness and safety of glyphosate. The expert, Charles S. Helling, a senior scientific adviser to the department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, met with, among others, the ministers of public health and agriculture, both of whom have opposed the use of herbicides, an Afghan official said.

    For all the controversy over herbicide use, there is no debate that Afghanistan’s drug problem is out of control. The country now produces 93 percent of the world’s opiates, according to United Nations estimates. Its traffickers are also processing more opium into heroin base there, a shift that has helped to increase Afghanistan’s drug revenues exponentially since the American-led invasion in 2001.

    A United Nations report in August documented a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production. Perhaps more important for the effort to stabilize Afghanistan, officials said, the Taliban has been reaping a windfall from taxes on the growers and traffickers.

    The problem is most acute in the southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold. It produced nearly 4,400 metric tons of opium this year, almost half the country’s total output, United Nations statistics show.

    Moreover, as Afghanistan’s opium production has soared, the government’s eradication efforts have faltered. Federal and provincial eradication teams — using sticks, sickles and animal-drawn plows — cut down about 47,000 acres of poppy fields this year, 24 percent more than last year but still less than 9 percent of the country’s total poppy crop.

    And even that effort had to be negotiated plot by plot with growers. Powerful and politically connected landowners were able to protect their crops while smaller, weaker farmers were made the targets. The eradication program was so spotty that it did little to discourage farmers from cultivating the crop, American and European officials said.
  4. Felonious Skunk
    Let fair be fair:

    The USA can spray poppy fields to prevent the spread of a dangerous drug if Afghanistan can spray tobacco fields to prevent the spread of a dangerous drug.
  5. FrankenChrist
    Afghan government stands firm

    Ahahaha. These were only the first four words of the title, and already I knew I didn't need to read the rest.
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