By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2007 – The problems plaguing the Afghan government cannot be taken on without taking on the problem of poppy production, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan told Pentagon reporters in a teleconference today. Although he's not suggesting changing the charter of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill said coalition forces can likely work within the eight pillars of the Afghan National Strategy for Counternarcotics to help fight against the opium cultivation in the country.
"Poppy is a defining characteristic for this country at present," McNeill said. "And it's a negative definition any way you look at it."
In years past, Afghans have had to turn to growing opium poppy largely due infrastructure problems such as poor roads and destroyed irrigation systems. Since poppies need moisture once every five days, the plant was heavily relied upon to provide an income for farmers in the drought-stricken country.
With increased moisture from the snow melt in the Hindu Kush Mountains this year and the best spring rain the country has received in more than 50 year, the general said prime conditions have been set for optimum narcotic cultivation.
"I don't think there's any doubt that there is some connection between the insurgency and poppy," McNeill said. He said that while monitoring of convoys for insurgents and munitions, coalition troops have frequently come across narcotics convoys.
"It occurs to me that when I put all this together, that is some places in Afghanistan, probably especially in the south, they're almost inextricable - what the insurgents are doing and what the 'narco' dealers are doing," he said.
The general said that he didn't have any numerical evidence to assign to the relationship, but he is convinced of the relationship. And the NATO force, he said, isn't designed to challenge the poppy trade militarily.
"(Coalition troops) are not an eradication force," he said. "We're not trained, we're not equipped, we don't have the requisite number of helicopters, and we're not manned to do it."
However, McNeill said that NATO forces will be able to work within the country's counternarcotics pillars to operate against the problem.
"I don't believe that we can deal with the insurgency in a complete fashion without taking on the issue of poppy," McNeill said.
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