By John D. Banusiewicz
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2006 – Afghanistan's illicit drug trade has to be brought under control for the country to succeed, the commander of coalition forces in the country said here today. At a Pentagon news conference, Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry said military forces are supporting law enforcement efforts against narcotrafficking in Afghanistan, but he emphasized it's ultimately a law enforcement issue, not a military one.
"We have a military role that we do play in the fight against narcotrafficking, in the counternarcotics mission," he said. For example, he noted, the military provides intelligence support to law enforcement officials in Afghanistan.
"We provide what we would call in the military 'in extremis' support," he said. "That is, if law enforcement forces are to go forward and conduct an interdiction operation, we can provide them -- should they get into trouble -- with additional military support on an emergency basis, or we can provide them with medical evacuation support.
"So we do support law enforcement," he continued, "but, ... at the end of the day, it's a law enforcement lead."
The problem is complex, Eikenberry said, involving factors far beyond law enforcement.
"There's a law enforcement dimension," he said. "There's eradication. Very importantly, there's providing the farmers of Afghanistan with alternative livelihoods or with alternatives to growing of poppy, which is important in a very poor country such as Afghanistan. There's an aspect that has to do with providing public education. There's an aspect that has to do with building a judicial system, which has been absolutely destroyed after three decades of warfare."
Eikenberry said it took more than 20 years of sustained effort by the international community and by the Thais in order to bring a similar problem under control in Thailand. "And in the case of Thailand," he added, "it was starting with a very much higher social baseline and economic baseline than we face in Afghanistan."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the United Nations Security Council yesterday in New York that drug trafficking feeds terrorism and threatens legitimate economic development.
"Afghanistan is committed to fighting narcotics, alongside terrorism, with strength and determination," Karzai said. "And through a combination of law enforcement and economic measures, we expect that the international community will continue to support us in this fight by enabling us to provide meaningful alternative livelihood to our farmers."
At the Pentagon today, Eikenberry gave his own assessment of what he sees as the two biggest dangers posed by narcotrafficking.
"One is, first of all, just the prospect of the absolute corruption of the government that could occur when you have narcotrafficking and money moving at that scale," he said. "But the second is the possibility, then, of the money of narcotrafficking then coming together with terrorism, and that's something that we're looking at very closely, and so the nexus there is something that does start to get into a military domain."
Eikenberry emphasized that although the Afghan government and the international community are working on the problem, there's no quick solution.
"President Karzai and his administration have stated very firmly their awareness of the problem, their opposition to it, their intention to try to work against it," he said. "The international community continues to make efforts to assist the Afghan government, but it's going to be a long, sustained effort to achieve success."