Thursday, October 23, 2014

The opium pipedreams of an ex-general

 The former head of the British army Gen Sir Peter Wall said on a BBC documentary: "The lasting impact we will have had is not just to sanitise the threat to allow the development of governance and economy, but to be a witness to and stimulus for very significant social change, with an improving economy, with jobs, with much developed farming opportunities in contrast to narcotics.”

This is an example of crass denial which is a persistent and constant feature of UK military history.

 The LA Times reports that there was a record harvest of opium last year and John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction has concluded that the counter-narcotics strategy is failing badly. The amount of land used to grow poppies in 2013 eclipsed the previous record set in 2007, producing nearly $3 billion in profits, up from $2 billion in 2012. He stated in a report "The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability" of the U.S.-led counter-narcotics program.”

Several areas once declared poppy-free by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are now awash in opium. Afghanistan provides 80% of the world's opium. Much of it is grown in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, strongholds of Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan. Nangarhar province also produces a significant crop.  Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, was declared poppy-free in 2008 and cited as a model for successful interdiction. The province saw a fourfold increase in opium production in 2013. "Poppy production is on the increase and is a significant threat to U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan," the Pentagon said.

Rather than the growth of farming opportunities claimed by Gen. Wall, high opium prices and a cheap and skilled agricultural work force, much of the newly arable land has been dedicated to poppy cultivation. Part of the reason is affordable deep-well technology that has provided ample water for poppy plants, the US report says. The wells have turned 494,000 acres of desert land into arable agricultural areas over the last decade in southwestern Afghanistan, the center of the country's opium cultivation.

In 2013, Afghan farmers grew an unprecedented 516,000 acres of opium poppy, surpassing the previous record of 477,000 acres in 2007, according to the U.N. drug office. Sopko's report predicts further increases in production for this year's harvest.

Wall is simply another example of a soldier who wants to rewrite history to hide failure. But we hardly expect the BBC to correct him.

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