FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - Afghan National Army soldiers from 1st Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps, based out of Forward Operating Base Shamulzai, Afghanistan, located and destroyed several acres of opium poppy fields during a routine joint patrol, with elements of Battle Company, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, Task Force 1st Squadron 14th Cavalry Regiment, earlier this month.
Opium poppy is a species of plant from which opium is made. It is the source of many narcotics, including morphine, and its derivative heroin, and has been used by the insurgency to finance their attacks on Afghan National Security Forces and International Security Assistance Forces over the last 11 years. Opium poppy, however, is not the only illicit crop grown in Afghanistan. Marijuana is also grown extensively throughout the country.
The ANA's discovery, and subsequent destruction, of such a significant amount of opium poppy is noteworthy because of the message it sends to the insurgents who facilitate its growth.
"It sends a message that ANSF and GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) are going to target the Taliban's financing of their insurgency," said Capt. Joe Mickley, Battle Company's commanding officer.
Over the last decade opium poppy has proven to be the fastest growing crop for Afghan farmers, but not for the usual reasons. Notably, the illicit drug trade has been a premier crop in Afghanistan because of pressure from the Taliban. They push the villagers to grow the drugs for profit that is used to fund their insurgency.
"They don't give them any options," said Mickley. "They tell them to do it."
While it's normally against Islamic doctrine for Afghans to grow drugs, the insurgency turns a blind eye to it since it yields a significant amount of money for them on the illicit drug market; a small percentage of which is usually given to the farmers.
"That's why I always do my patrols in the villages and teach them that the way of Islam is to be against drugs," said Capt. Sayed Baba Mansory, ANA officer-in-charge of the Shamulzai detachment for the 1/2-205 ANA Corps.
There are other crops, high demand crops, that villagers could grow. Grapes, used to make raisins, are a huge commodity in southern Afghanistan. Wheat is another crop that does well in this part of the country.
"The thing is drugs equal money," said Mickley, “and so the insurgency pays the villagers to grow it,” he added.
Throughout Afghanistan efforts are underway by the ANSF to eradicate the illicit drug trade. However, because the insurgency often prevents local villagers from growing traditional, high demand crops, villagers are prevented from making a living to support their families. With few other choices available to them, Afghan farmers reluctantly grow the opium poppy. They do not condone the usage of it, but the insurgency has, more or less, forced them to grow it.
The solution, Mansory explains, is for more involvement from the government in Kabul. Their commitment to the villages could potentially lure farmers into the bazaar where they could sell their conventional crops for a profit and see that there are legal ways to make a living without turning to the growth of illicit drugs.
Ultimately, though, growing more conventional crops is what will be needed for the future of Afghanistan. Efforts are underway to teach Afghan farmers that growing such crops are not only good for them and their families, but is good for all of Afghanistan.
"Really it all relates to enabling the government out there to take hold and encouraging the villagers to come in and participate in the government," said Mickley.