Counternarcotics Strategy in Afghanistan

This map is borrowed from p. 5 of the “Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009” published by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Note that the provinces in navy blue are poppy (or opium) free. Another seven provinces -the ones in light blue- are almost poppy free. Click to enlarge.

Counternarcotics (or “counter narcotics”) refers to the actions and strategies taken to prevent illicit (illegal) narcotics activity. Two main counternarcotics strategies have emerged over Afghanistan’s illicit opium trade. The Bush-era strategy emphasized eradication, or the physical destruction of opium poppies in the fields. The Obama strategy replaces eradication with interdiction. This means that the international armed forces in Afghanistan will not stop Afghan opium poppy farmers from growing poppies but they will attempt to interdict (or intercept) farmers’ attempts to sell the harvested opium, and seize processing and storage facilities. The Afghan government continues by itself to practice eradication on a small scale. Which strategy is right?

Ambassador Thomas Schweich, former Assistant Secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, argues for eradication in his July 27, 2008, Washington Post editorial “Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow at the Brookings Institute and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University argues for limited interdiction in her September 2009 Brookings policy brief “The Obama Administration’s New Counternarcotics Strategy in Afghanistan: It’s Promises and Potential Pitfalls.”

Schweich’s article is an exposé piece that reveals the dark secrets of Afghanistan’s opium trade. Schweich writes that the Bush-era eradication strategy largely failed because the US Department of Defense, NATO allies, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai prevented it from being fully implemented. Schweich states that the US military’s Afghanistan strategy was “sequential” meaning that its main task was to crush the insurgency and then let others (the Afghan government?) deal with the drug problem later. So long as the insurgency was active, the opium trade was not a priority for the military.

Schweich believes that where eradication campaigns were permitted, such as in the north, along with anti-drug education efforts, opium crops decreased by as much as 10% to 20%. The eradication here was manual as opposed to aerial, which uses sprays, as there is overwhelming disapproval among Afghans over the use of sprays. The 20% figure is critical because according to Schweich it is the “tipping point in eradication.”

Schweich writes that a new opium pattern was emerging by late-2006: opium in the ethnically Tajik and Uzbek-dominated north was vanishing but was rapidly increasing in the Pashtun-dominated south. The Pashtuns dominate the insurgency. He adds that the southern farmers were the richest in the country while the northern and eastern farmers (Pashtuns are also in the majority in the east) were the poorest.

The rich-poor point is an important one because according to Schweich the poor northern as well as eastern farmers “were taking advantage of antidrug programs and turning away from poppy cultivation in large numbers” and the southern farmers who were already wealthy were turning to poppy cultivation to become even wealthier. Some of the southern opium farmers were pro-Taliban but others supported the Karzai government. Schweich alleges that Karzai’s motive for resisting opium eradication efforts in the south was because he did not want to lose his political support there, or his Pashtun base as Karzai is Pashtun, especially since elections were upcoming.

While Schweich seems to concede that poverty may have been the main motive driving opium cultivation sometime prior to 2006, he strongly disagrees that this is the case today. Instead, Schweich links Afghanistan’s opium today to the pursuit of wealth by the wealthy and to the insurgency. By late-2006 Schweich states that the insurgency was becoming increasingly linked to the opium trade, what he calls a “narco-insurgency,” similar to Colombia’s FARC rebel group that is linked to cocaine.

In Afghanistan, money from opium sales gets funneled to the Taliban and in return the Taliban protects the opium crops. Schweich argues that the insurgency-opium link made eradication’s implementation even more urgent: destroy the opium crops and cut off the opium money funding the insurgency. Successful opium eradication could financially paralyze Taliban.

One of Schweich’s sources for his rich-poor and opium-insurgency themes is the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Schweich quotes a 2007 UNODC report (he does not identify it by name) that states: “Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty –quite the opposite.”

He also sites a March 2008 UNODC paper entitled “Is Poverty Driving the Afghan Opium Boom?” (PDF download link) which uses quantitative analysis to determine if there is a poverty connection to opium cultivation. The paper measures asset ownership to determine the richest provinces (e.g. how many Afghan households in each province own a watch, a motorcycle, a truck, etc.) and then compares these figures to provincial opium cultivation figures. It concluded: “The wealthier provinces were actually more likely to cultivate opium poppy than the poorer ones –wealth and opium poppy cultivation were positively correlated for almost all assets.”

Vanda Felbab-Brown takes a different approach to Afghanistan’s drug problem. While she believes that the illicit opium trade is bad and needs to be stopped she also contends that any counternarcotics policy, whether eradication or interdiction, will ultimately fail unless the insecurity has been stopped and significant rural development started. However, Felbab-Brown prefers limited interdiction to eradication provided that the interdiction efforts are carried out (“operationalized”) properly. By “limited” it is meant just that because, as Felbab-Brown believes, large-scale interdiction would be the equivalent to eradication in its effects and alienate poppy growers from the government.

She argues that intense counternarcotics efforts should wait until after the insurgency is defeated. Felbab-Brown states, “NATO-led selective interdiction of targeting designated Taliban-linked traffickers…. Can actually provide opportunities for the Taliban to directly take over the trafficking role or strengthen the alliance between the remaining traffickers and the Taliban, thus achieving the opposite of what it aims for.”

Felbab-Brown believes that interdiction “meshes” better with US and NATO commander General McChrystal’s people-centered counterinsurgency plan. McChrystal is pulling US troops away from border zones and distant outposts and stationing them near population centers. Such a strategy protects the Afghan people from insurgent bullying tactics so that the people can willingly choose to turn their backs on the insurgents without fear of retaliation. According to Felbab-Brown, interdiction is people-centered because it does not risk turning Afghan opium farmers against the government and to the insurgency.

Felbab-Brown is a harsh critic of the Bush-era eradication policy, which is best described as “forced eradication” and is more or less the technique used all over the world by governments in developing countries who wish to force farmers into licit farming by destroying their illicit crops. According to Felbab-Brown, eradication can only “cement the bonds between marginalized populations dependent on illicit crops and belligerents plus severely reduce human intelligence flows to the counterinsurgent forces.”

Felbab-Brown argues that although some Afghan provinces succeeded in eradicating many hectares (abbreviated ‘ha’, one hectare equals two acres) of opium crops, they did so by paying a serious price. Nangarhar, an eastern province in Afghanistan and one of the eradication success stories sited by Schweich, is also discussed by Felbab-Brown but as a horror story. She states that by failing to provide Nangarhar opium farmers with an “alternative livelihood” many of them joined the insurgency after the government destroyed their opium crops. Moreover, crime escalated in the province as many of those hit by the loss of opium money turned to crime, such as kidnapping and robbery, to get money.

Felbab-Brown also takes issue with Schweich’s idea that eradicating Afghanistan’s opium will bankrupt the Taliban. She insists that eradication efforts have never bankrupted insurgencies, not in China, Thailand, Burma, Peru, Lebanon, or Colombia. She points out that the Taliban rebuilt itself initially from 2002 to 2004 without opium money. Richard Holbrook, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, seems to agree. In an August 2009 CNN interview, Holbrook stated that the Taliban also gets direct financial support from the Gulf States. He did not specify whether this support was from the Gulf governments or from private citizens but he did highlight its informality: “It seems to be more from individuals carrying money in their suitcases.”

Felbab-Brown appears to believe in the poverty-opium link that Schweich and the UNODC refute since she refers to “marginalized populations dependent on illicit crops.” Who is right? Probably both. While the new trend is that opium cultivation is expanding in the wealthier south and plenty of rich farmers are involved, this does not mean that every southern opium farmer is rich. Although Helmand Province, sited in the UNODC paper, is one of Afghanistan’s wealthiest provinces, it still has plenty of poor farmers that need assistance. As will be discussed later, there has been a major aid drive in Helmand to help opium farmers turn to licit farming and it is not just targeting the rich.

Both eradication and interdiction have their strengths and weaknesses. Eradication’s strength is that it leaves in place the threat of a government crackdown against opium cultivation. This is the equivalent of someone fearing going to jail for committing a crime. Eradication should always remain an option because if there is no possibility of eradication then some Afghans might begin to question if illicit opium cultivation is really bad. Interdiction’s strength is that it intercepts some of the opium that will leave Afghanistan to destroy lives around the world.

Assessing President Obama’s new interdiction policy is not possible yet since it is only just beginning to see the light of day at a time when Afghan opium cultivation is tumbling as will be discussed momentarily. In addition, while interdiction is President Obama’s counternarcotics policy in Afghanistan today, the UNODC’s Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009 (PDF download link, “Opium Survey” from here on out) indicates that the Afghan government continued some eradication efforts on its own in a number of provinces in 2009 (Opium Survey, pp. 17-23). It eradicated 5,321 ha of opium in 2009, or about 4% of Afghanistan’s total opium cultivation (p. 17). The vast majority of the eradicated opium, or 4,119 ha, occurred in Helmand Province (p. 23).

Both Bush-era eradication and present-era interdiction are problematic. The former is like the proverbial bull in a China cabinet that does not take basic political realities into consideration. Schweich should not be surprised that the US military (and other militaries in Afghanistan) do not want to enter into the opium malaise. The military’s job is to break the insurgency. Anything that complicates this, such as eradication efforts that can turn opium benefactors to the insurgency, is not in the military’s interest. Moreover, President Karzai’s political base is the Pashtun south. Getting Karzai to agree to a drug policy that destroys the illicit money making opium machine of his supporters without aggressively replacing it with something else would be political suicide for him.

What is most troubling about the Bush-era eradication policy is that it treated Afghanistan’s opium trade as a law enforcement problem. Cultivating opium is against the law and, as Karzai says, it is also against Islam. If Afghanistan’s opium problem were only a matter of a handful of opium cultivators then a law enforcement approach would be the best strategy: forcibly destroy the opium and arrest the criminals. However, Afghanistan’s opium problem is a far different matter.

The economies of entire districts (and in Helmand’s case an entire province) are dependent on opium revenue. Forcibly eradicating Afghanistan’s opium without also helping opium farmers transition to licit farming, as Felbab-Brown argues, causes massive social and economic upheaval, and can turn whole opium communities to the insurgency. A good analogy is the difference between getting a splinter in the finger and being impaled in the chest with a pole. The splinter can be quickly removed but a doctor better surgically remove the pole because simply ripping it out would cause massive bleeding and probably death.

The interdiction-only strategy is equally problematic because it plays to Afghanistan’s culture of corruption by not doing enough about the drug problem until after the insurgency is squashed and the economy rebuilt. Insistence on minimal interdiction is not any better. Felbab-Brown repeatedly justifies inaction by referencing the likely insurgent reactions in response to any serious counternarcotics effort. For instance, she believes that counternarcotics’ efforts could actually help consolidate the Taliban’s hold on the opium market. While consolidation may happen, that reality should not stop the Afghan government from significant counternarcotics’ efforts today.

Criminals will always get smarter and take countermeasures to protect their activities to avoid getting caught. It is a form of competition and that reality should not stop serious counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan for fear of what opium traffickers or insurgents will do. Instead, once the authorities act and then the crooks react, the authorities should act again but a little smarter than the first time. The crooks will counter and then the authorties will act again. This process will repeat itself again and again.

The biggest problem with an interdiction-only strategy is that it formulates Afghan counternarcotics strategy in a vacuum. It must be remembered that Afghanistan’s opium does not just affect Afghanistan. It also destroys the lives of millions of people all around the world, and many countries are involved in interdicting Afghanistan’s opium to prevent this. It is hard to justify limited interdiction, when stronger efforts are possible, for fear of what the Taliban might do about it and when so many other non-Afghan lives are at stake. The Afghan government has a duty to the rest of the world in doing whatever it can to stop its illicit opium trade.

Interdicting drug traffickers is essential to counternarcotics in Afghanistan. However, since it only blocks a tiny fraction of the opium from getting out, relying on it alone to combat Afghanistan’s opium problem risks sacrificing the current decline in Afghanistan’s opium cultivation. The Opium Survey states that today a surprising 20 of 34 Afghan provinces are opium-free, and these provinces cut a huge vertical swath through the center of the country (Opium Survey, p. 5, or see map). (In an August 2007 press roundtable, Schweich sited only 13 provinces as being opium-free.)

Another seven provinces are nearly opium-free, and opium cultivation across the country has tumbled 22% since 2008. In 2008, 2.4 million Afghans were involved in opium cultivation, but in 2009 that number plummeted to 1.6 million. Today, “99% of Afghanistan’s opium cultivation is concentrated in the Southern and Western regions” (Opium Survey, p. 9). It is not a countrywide problem but it risks becoming so again if strict interdiction policy is followed.

Felbab-Brown believes that the sharp decline in Afghanistan’s opium cultivation is due to opium’s tumbling price in the international market because of excessive Afghan cultivation (known as “saturation”) rather than from either eradication or interdiction efforts. The Opium Survey states that farm-gate opium prices, or the price paid at the opium farms for raw opium (fresh and dried) have fallen dramatically. Fresh opium alone has fallen 31% over the past year from $70 to $48 per kilo, which means that opium cultivation has lost a lot of its profitability (pp. 23-25). When compared to wheat cultivation prices, which have spiked recently, opium cultivation yields only three times the profit. This is down from 27 times the profit in 2003 (p. 25).

In recent email, this article’s author asked Anthony Cordesman, a noted Afghanistan expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, about Afghanistan’s drop in opium cultivation. “Is the drop explained by market forces of supply and demand… or by counternarcotics strategy?” Mr. Cordesman answered (on December 17, 2009), “Frankly, the data and modeling aren’t good enough to tell. Moreover, much depends on the nature and outcome of a new strategy that is just beginning to be implemented.” Cordesman’s unwillingness to single out saturation was telling because it indicated that there might be other forces at work.

Opium Cultivation and Eradication Chart (click twice to enlarge)

It should be noted that while Afghanistan’s opium cultivation has declined over the last two years, in Myanamar, the world’s second largest opium cultivator, opium cultivation has increased three years in a row despite the tumbling opium prices on the international market. In fact, even in Afghanistan, a province-by-province opium cultivation comparison from 2008 to 2009 does not bring out market saturation as the leading cause for the dramatic drop in Afghanistan’s opium cultivation (Opium Survey, p. 2 or see chart). Afghanistan’s total opium cultivation dropped 22% from 2008 to 2009. It fell from 157,000 ha in 2008 to 123,000 ha in 2009, or a difference of 34,000 ha.

A province-by-province comparison indicates that Afghanistan’s nationwide drop in opium cultivation was almost entirely due to the drop in a single province -Helmand, which is Afghanistan’s largest opium cultivator supplying about two-thirds of the nation’s opium. Helmand’s opium cultivation dropped an astonishing 33%, or 33,757 ha in 2009. The Opium Survey agrees, “Indeed, the major drop in Helmand corresponds to the entire national decline this year: -34,000 ha.” (Opium Survey, Executive Summary). It goes on to attribute Helmand’s dramatic progress to a number of factors including the province’s new governor, the British presence there, and the spike in wheat prices. More about Helmand Province later.

It is worth noting that polling data indicate that Afghans in general have a serious ethical problem with growing opium. Even in the regions where opium cultivation is the highest, the public only supports it because of the revenue that it brings in. In a February 2009 ABC/BBC/ARD Afghanistan poll (see story and PDF download link) 63% of Afghans responded that poppy cultivation was wrong in all cases and another 28% said that it was only acceptable if there was “no other way to earn a living” (Q-36, ‘Q’ for question). Taken together, 91% of respondents had a negative view of opium.

Journalist Graeme Smith’s rather amazing interviews of 42 Taliban fighters in Kandahar Province in 2007 support the poll’s findings (see interviews). The Taliban fighters claimed they supported opium cultivation because they needed the money (an indicator that the Taliban is opium dependent). Yet, the same men almost unanimously agreed that opium cultivation was against the teachings of Islam. Their body language even betrayed a sense of shame when they answered the questions on opium. Some looked down or looked away and their shoulders sagged. Having the moral advantage in Afghanistan’s opium battle is priceless because this means that there is always a latent momentum against opium cultivation. It just needs to be activated with the right strategy.

One thing about opium policy in Afghanistan is certain: counternarcotics policy must have President Karzai’s support to be effective. This is one of the lessons learned from Schweich’s article and would seem to implicate interdiction as the only viable strategy going forward. However, is it possible to have a counternarcotics policy that has more bite than interdiction, is more sensible than the Bush-era eradication policy, and may win President Karzai’s support?

Yes, it is a strategy that combines both policies and adds aggressive incentives, which is what Gulab Mangal, governor of Helmand Province, has put into action. In March of 2008, Mangal was made governor of Helmand. That fall, Governor Mangal started his counternarcotics plan with Great Britain’s material assistance. Britain is the lead International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) member in Helmand Province. Denmark and Estonia make smaller contributions.

Peter Thruelson, a fellow at the Institute for Strategy at the Royal Danish Defense College, has written about Helmand Province’s complex political, economic, and administrative challenges as well as Great Britain’s “Helmand Road Map,” or its security and development strategy for the province (see Small Wars Journal article). Thruelson writes that due to Britain’s limited personnel and material resources in Helmand, in the spring of 2008 the British decided to focus all of their efforts in just five of Helmand’s 13 districts. The five districts are sometimes referred to as “food zones” or “development zones.” An Afghan army and police presence does exist outside of these districts.

Mangal focused on just a portion of his province, or the food zones, presumably because of the ISAF presence there. Afghan opium farmers literally came up to tables and registered for aid (see “UK in Afghanistan” Flickr photoset). In exchange for free wheat seed and fertilizer, farmers had to sign a paper agreeing not to grow opium (see DFID article). The government eradicated the opium poppies of those who grew opium after signing the paper and receiving the aid. This was a good strategy because one would think that Helmand citizens would be receptive to a governor-led eradication effort if they knew that their opium farmers had received material aid and had signed a paper pledging not to grow opium.

Using wheat seed as opposed to another type of seed also was strategic because today there is high demand for wheat seed and this makes growing wheat more profitable than it was just a couple of years ago. Future campaigns may need to use other types of seed according to what is in demand at the time in order to maximize profits. Mangal’s wheat seed and fertilizer program will be expanded in 2010. It was a first attempt so lessons need to be learned from it so that future attempts refine the process.

The Opium Survey sites a Cranfield University study, which found in 2009 that opium cultivation decreased by 37% in Helmand’s food zones where Governor Mangal ran his counternarcotics effort but increased by 8% outside the food zones (p. 8). The fact that opium cultivation increased outside the food zones but decreased within them is strong evidence that saturation was not the cause of the decline in Helmand’s total opium cultivation in 2009 but that it was because of Governor Mangal’s counternarcotics’ strategy.

Felbab-Brown notes the abuse of the program. For instance, some of the opium farmers sold their wheat seed rather than planted it. Perhaps another criticism might be that the Helmand experiment did not go far enough on the incentive side. Economically speaking, not all opium farmers are the same, and this difference will have serious implications on the success rate of any incentive strategy and may in part explain why some of the farmers sold their seed rather than planted it.

In Afghanistan, wealthy opium farmers have large farms. They are in a better economic position to transition to licit farming than poor opium farmers. In fact, wealthy opium farmers probably do not need incentive programs. (A case could still be made that wealthy farmers should be included in incentive programs since the farmers are accepting a considerable profit loss by agreeing to drop opium.)

In contrast to the rich farmers, poor farmers may own less than one or two hectares of land and may even be sharecroppers. If poor Afghan farmers are like the poor in other developing countries then it can be assumed that they are likely up to their eyeballs in debt and their families need the most basic of supplies including food, clothing, and medicine. The poor Afghan farmer is likely well behind the financial curve in his life as he registers for an incentive program.

This means that the poor farmer is desperate for cash since he already has a number of outstanding and immediate needs. When such a poor opium farmer is given bags of wheat seed and told to plant them instead of opium, if his financial situation is as dire as just described then it is entirely possible that he will immediately sell the bags of seed once he gets them -even after signing a piece of paper- and then use the cash to cover his needs since from his standpoint he does not have time to wait for the harvest. In contrast, greed is the likely motivator in cases where rich farmers sell free seed.

We may characterize the misuse (or abuse) of an incentive program by poor farmers as corruption or mismanagement; however, such actions should not be surprising due to the dreadful economic condition of poor farmers. The challenge is to design an incentive program that will succeed in this context. To be sure, the odds are good that there will always be those opium farmers that have no intention of getting out of the opium business, and yet receive the aid of an incentive program anyway. Perhaps they are counting on bribing their way out of eradication later.

Recall that Schweich and the Opium Survey argued against a poverty-opium link. While the general trend may be true, we know that there are poor farmers growing opium and they need assistance to transition to licit farming. It would be helpful if Governor Mangal could authorize a demographic study of the farmers that signed up for his program because the findings could help show where future aid efforts need to be adjusted to better support the various economic conditions of Helmand farmers. What was the ratio of rich to poor farmers who registered for his program? And who continued to grow opium after getting the aid? Was it the rich, the poor, or both -and what was the ratio? This of course assumes the data that the Helmand government collected is accurate. If it could be shown that the rich were more likely to grow opium after receiving the material aid then this knowledge would help Governor Mangal to adjust his strategy in 2010. If the data indicate that poor farmers were more likely to continue growing opium then a more aggressive aid program for just the poor farmers is needed.

Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal with US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and UK Ambassador Mark Sedwill (click to enlarge)

How can the poor Afghan opium farmers be helped financially so that they can transition away from opium? The straight economic answer is that these farmers need access to loans. They must have capital. However, given Afghanistan’s low standard of living, the fact that a dollar will go a long way over there, that poor Afghan farmers do not need a lot of capital to run their micro-businesses, that their risk of defaulting is probably high, that Afghanistan finds itself in a unique position today where scores of countries are pouring money into it, why not just give these poor farmers capital? Developed countries give money away all the time to their university students and call it ‘grants.’ Free money for education is understood as an investment. Likewise, getting capital into the hands of poor Afghan farmers to help them kick-start their businesses is also an investment.

The technical term for this kind of grant money is “micro-grants” (or microgrants). The US military has used micro-grants in Iraq very successfully (see DoD story and CENTCOM story). Funding for micro-grants comes from defense bills, which Congress must approve, through a program called the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP). It used to be that CERP could not fund private businesses but could only fund civic projects that would benefit the public as a whole (Joint Forces Quarterly PDF download link). However, this changed in 2007 with the military Surge in Iraq. Once a district or a town was cleared of insurgents, US soldiers physically gave money to local Iraqis to help them rebuild their businesses that had been devastated from the insecurity. Micro-grants had an immediate effect on local economies and helped to win hearts and minds. In 2010 when Governor Mangal expands his wheat seed and fertilizer program, the British government should appropriate funding for micro-grants.

It should be noted that in Iraq micro-grant recipients are held accountable. They must produce a business plan before receiving a micro-grant, and then if they get one, US soldiers visit them weekly to see how the money is being spent. If the micro-grant recipient is faithfully managing the money, he or she is eligible for another micro-grant.

Afghan farmers should also be held accountable. Since Afghanistan’s illiteracy rate is about 60%, the farmers will need help to draw up their business plans for the micro-grant applications. Most of the farmers still will not be able to read the plans but if the plans are kept simple enough, the farmers should be able to remember the broad outline of the plans since they are already familiar with the needs of the business.

How large should the micro-grants be? This will depend on the farmer. If micro-grants were extended to rich farmers then the figure would be higher as they are managing larger farms. The farmers with the very biggest farms could even receive grants large enough to purchase tractors and storage facilities. Such equipment could help these farmers get into exporting, which would significantly boost the Afghan economy by increasing employment. The Helmand government should be able to come up with a modest figure for poor farmers, which might be $500, a $1000 or more.

For an Afghan farmer, rich or poor, such a positive experience might be the first time in his life that he really connects with the government and actually feels like the government is representing his interests. Everyone wins. The farmer is empowered to provide for his family and the government gains legitimacy. It cannot be stressed enough that micro-grants are investments. They empower individual families and contribute to the larger Afghan economy.

Micro-grant disbursements do not have to be associated with a governor-led program where farmers have to seek out the government at a particular location. In Iraq, US soldiers would often seek out people that already had a storefront business. In Afghanistan, soldiers accompanied by Afghan government representatives could go out into rural areas to meet one-on-one with farmers, provided it is safe to do so. Here they could sit down and work out a business plan together and the micro-grant could be issued shortly thereafter if the flexibility were there to do so.

As with any aid program there is always the fear that insurgents will get their hands on a piece of the aid. If it is getting free wheat seed and fertilizer then selling it for cash and using the money to assist the insurgents to kill ISAF and Afghan security forces then this is a big problem. It is entirely possible that some of the aid from Governor Mangal’s program or some of the micro-grant money given in Iraq made its way to insurgents.

In the case of micro-grants in Iraq, lessons learned from follow-up meetings should provide useful strategies to detect when an Afghan farmer misuses his micro-grant. However, if poor Afghan farmers are as destitute as suspected, then even if they have Taliban sympathies, it is possible that they will make sure that the lion’s share of what they receive stays with their families and this can lead to a change of attitude toward the government. In addition, the opposite is also true. Afghan farmers that are helped to climb out of a dismal economic situation, and jump at the opportunity, may also offer the government important intelligence on the insurgency.

In the end, Helmand’s success needs to be duplicated in the other opium cultivating provinces. The governors of these provinces should study what Governor Mangal did and figure out how to tailor it to the particulars of their own provinces. They need to figure out how best to work with their ISAF partners to implement the counternarcotic’s strategy. The governors need to target a particular opium district (-s) and focus on it, and Governor Mangal’s staff can be of valuable assistance in offering ideas.