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Monsanto Attacks Iraq & Afghanistan with Glyphosate

Mistrust hampers Afghan opium battle

By Andrew North
BBC correspondent, Tora Bora
Saturday, 4 December, 2004, 00:55 GMT

Like the walls of a giant fortress, the snow-covered peaks of the Spin Ghar,
or White Mountains, rise from the haze as you drive south from Jalalabad.

It is a spectacular landscape, but one swirling in rumour and tension these

Buttressing these peaks are the wooded hills of Tora Bora, famous now as the
last known hiding place of Osama Bin Laden.

But today it is the setting for another battle, one arguably far more
important to Afghanistan's future.

This is one of the main areas for growing opium poppy - source for most of
the world's heroin.

With a recent UN report showing a two-thirds rise in poppy cultivation this
year, Afghan and international efforts to curb the illegal trade are intensifying.

Grey pellets

Yet there are signs such efforts could already be failing.

In the villages abutting Tora Bora's slopes, people are angry.

They believe unidentified aircraft have been secretly spraying herbicide on
their opium fields, which they say they depend on for survival.

Most people here point the finger at the Americans or the British, the lead
players in international efforts to combat the Afghan drugs trade.

"I heard the planes late at night about 10 days ago, circling above," says
farmer Nader Khan, who lives in Pachir wa Agam district.

In the morning, he described seeing tiny grey pellets spread across his

"I had planted just a small piece of land with poppy," he insists, showing me
the size of the plants, no more than 10cm high.

"But now all the plants are finished. Some of my other crops were killed too."


Giving me a tour of his land, he points out a patch of wilting and yellowing
onions, although there was no way of telling if this was because of the
alleged spraying.

Nader Khan says his goats were also affected, although he won't say how. And
when a crowd of fellow villagers gathers to listen, there is more than a
little theatre in his answers and gestures.

In Kabul, the American embassy insists the US government has "not conducted
any aerial eradication, nor has it contracted or sub-contracted anyone to do
it on its behalf". The British embassy has given similar denials.

And some experts question why anyone would try to spray so early on, when
the opium plants are so young.

Nevertheless, the mystery of what happened over the Tora Bora opium fields
in the weeks after Ramadan will not go away.

Descriptions of tiny grey pellets match a sample that has been given to the
BBC by a farmer from the neighbouring district of Khogyani.

Afghan authorities, who have expressed concern to the British government
over the allegations, say they are testing substances collected immediately after
reports of the spraying emerged. No results have been released so far.

Whatever the explanation, it has had the affect of spreading mistrust of any
attempts by outsiders - Afghan or foreign - to stop poppy growing.

"Why do they do this secret spraying?" demands another farmer. "If they help
us, with new roads, dams and electricity, then we won't grow it."


That may be the explanation, argue some Western anti-narcotics officials in
Kabul - a deliberate attempt by some major players in the Afghan drugs trade,
aimed at stirring opposition to other "real" eradication efforts planned for
the next few months.

If there really was a plan to kill off poppy plants early in the season, it
does not appear to be working. In Pachir wa Agam, affected plots have
already been re-ploughed.

Several fields can be seen from which the tiny leaves of new opium plants
are sprouting - fields the farmers said had been sown with wheat.

Nothing is ever as it seems in Afghanistan.

The reality is that opium is embedded in the economy here.

"I have been growing poppy since Zahir Shah's time," says Haji Zarghoun,
referring to Afghanistan's former king, who ruled until 1973.

The economics are simple. Haji Zarghoun says he earned around 300,000
Afghanis - about $6,600 - last year from selling the opium resin from his poppies.

That is at the higher end of the income spectrum for an opium farmer. But
compare that to the average wage in Afghanistan of around $200 a year.

"I have 30 people in my family, how can I feed them if I don't grow opium?'"
he asks, then begins to cry.

"We know it is against Islam, but we have no choice. If you're hungry you
can eat pork."

Thai experience

In fact, some international assistance is being organised for opium farmers in
this region.

This weekend, the American development agency USAID is due to announce the
distribution of 500 tonnes of wheat seed for Nangahar province, of which Tora
Bora is a part.

But even those who will be administering the programme, like provincial
governor Haji Din Mohammed, are sceptical about its benefits.

"It is almost the end of the wheat planting season," he says.

What is more, wheat does not grow as well in the highlands around the Spin
Ghar. Nor, more importantly, does it bring in anywhere near as much cash as

Patrick Fine, Afghanistan director for USAID, says it knows this is not the
answer to the problem. The wheat distribution is "just the first step in a
much bigger programme" aimed at promoting alternative sources of income.

Later this year, Mr Fine says the US will be funding a major jobs programme,
paying people in Nangahar and the two other main drug producing provinces to
repair irrigation channels, road and other infrastructure work.

There is concern among development experts in Nangahar that the US is
putting too much emphasis on eradicating poppy crops.

"It will not do what people think it will do," says Leo Brandenberg, team
leader in Jalalabad for the German aid agency GTZ.

GTZ is running a development programme in the province to reduce its
reliance on opium.

Mr Brandenberg's experience in Thailand showed it was better to leave
farmers alone and concentrate more on breaking up drug gangs and trafficking
networks first.

Governor Din Mohammed is worried too.

With so much pressure from the US to see poppy fields destroyed, he says
there could be violence in Nangahar.

"There will be no choice for the people," he warns.

"It would be better to do this eradication and help at the same time."


by Nick Meo in Kabul

Independent on Sunday (UK), 7 November 04

The US is preparing to destroy Afghanistan's opium poppy crop from the air
next spring, before it can be harvested, brushing aside objections from aid

The operation, modelled on controversial efforts to wipe out cocaine-growing
in Colombia, reflects growing concern in Washington that the opium trade is
financing al-Q'aida-linked terrorist groups and posing a grave threat to the
region's stability. Hundreds of private security contractors and pilots will
be hired to spray herbicides from low-flying aircraft.

Senior American officials barely disguise their impatience with British-led
efforts at eradication, which have failed to stop a massive increase in Afghan
poppy-growing. An annual UN report out next week will show a 64 per cent
increase in the area planted over the past year.

"It's time the stick was wielded and farmers understood there is a risk if
they plant opium", said a Western official in Kabul. "Some of them will have
a rough time, but there simply has to be enough eradication that farmers see
risk attached to this business."

Eradication missions are likely to begin in February or March in the
southern province of Helmand, although it has not yet been decided whether
to begin with an experiment in one area or launch the operation across the
country. An American-led campaign targeting drug barons is also expected to
start in the next few weeks, with US officials promising to extradite any
who can be linked to heroin smuggled into America.

The Pentagon has overridden objections from USAid, the official American aid
organisation, as well as Britain's Department for International Development.

US troops have expressed fears of being dragged into a drugs war, in which
Britain's 1,700 soldiers in Afghanistan could also be embroiled. Britain is
also expected to have a major intelligence role in anti-narcotics

A Colombia-style operation in Afghanistan could spark rural rebellions,
increase support for the Taliban's insurgency and perhaps cause damage to
the environment and health, according to critics. They fear that destroying a
crop on which an estimated two million farmers and their families now depend
for their livelihoods could impoverish whole provinces without stopping the
massive flow of heroin to Europe.

The herbicide glyphosate, used in Colombia, is reported to have caused
severe skin rashes and other illnesses. If it is accidentally sprayed over
legitimate crops, innocent farmers could suffer, and local famines might

Critics complain that little is being done to warn farmers that their crops
will be destroyed, even though it could make them decide against planting
poppies this month. "If this is to be effective they should be showing
farmers that they are really serious," one agriculture expert said. "The
best way to combat poppy cultivation is to dissuade farmers from growing it in
the first place."

"The other step is disrupting the smuggling networks and the seven or eight
big figures who control the opium smuggling business. Afghans might have
more faith in anti-narcotic measures if pressure was put on the big fish."

Many analysts believe Plan Colombia, the US-funded war against cocaine
trade, has proved ineffective. Much of the trade has relocated to
neighbouring countries, and the price of cocaine in America has remained the

The five-year, $3.3bn campaign provides training, equipment and intelligence
in return for the extradition of 120 alleged drug dealers to the US. In
Afghanistan, Britain helped to train counter-narcotic forces, including the
much-praised Force 333, which already destroyed heroin laboratories.