Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Growing Drug-Terrorism Nexus
There is much written on terrorist financing and possible sources of radical Islamist financing. We write about the Saudis (true), commodities (true) and many other parts of the puzzle. But, as the latest U.N. assessment from Afghanistan shows, one of the biggest sources of revenue now available to at least some parts of the Islamist forces is from heroin production and trafficking.

Afghanistan has set a new record on poppy production this year, as it did last year, and the year before. Who protects the poppy, the growers and the transporters? The Taliban, getting a two-for-one hit: enormous amounts of money and the change to help the West rot out from within.

I find it beyond ironic that the two main sources of revenue for those who want to kill us use our own money for the venture. We continue to pour billions of dollars into the Saudi _wahhabi_ structure, unable to seriously move to reduce our energy dependence. We see the results of that-the rapid spread of Islamist hate theology that advocates violence and the destruction of Western civilization (or anything not in tune with their narrow vision).

And our addiction (of course including Europe in the collective we) to drugs provide the Taliban and its allies with an ever-growing war chest with which to fund their fight for the establishment of the Dark Ages in their corner of the world.

Afghanistan now produces about 90 percent of the opium that is refined into heroin and sold in Europe, a trade worth more than $ 3 billion a year. Think that will allow the Taliban to buy a few guns, build a few social programs and buy officials?

Of course, other terrorist groups around the world use drug money, paid for on the streets of the U.S., Paris and Berlin, to fuel their activities. The FARC in Colombia is the most obvious example.

I have covered the failed drug war for 20 years, covered closely the rise and fall of the Medellin and Cali cartels in Colombia, been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for covering the Colombian and Mexican cartels and, and hung out with the gangs in Central America moving the product there.

So I have had a good look at the successive failed policies, almost all coming down to two fundamental problems: The massive profits generated by the drug trafficking, kept high by a punitive policy, help the worst and most violent gangs rise to the top and gain incredible power.

The second is that, even though they do not make much money, what peasants can earn growing poppy or cocoa almost always is far beyond the ability of any crop substitution program to replace.

These strategies are almost always begun decades after they would have been effective, and the net result is the spending of millions of dollars for projects that almost always make little difference after a few years.

This is true in Afghanistan, where the Taliban had cut the poppy production by about 80 percent. Now that it is advantageous to them, they gain goodwill by protecting the poppy harvest, and reap the profits. This is in part because no one wanted to take on the drug trade in the early days of the occupation. Now, it is too late. They can't take it on without massive disruption of the economy and society.

This is the reality. Legalization will not fly politically or ethically, although it would cut the profits out of the trade. That leaves waging a costly, dangerous war for marginal gains. Or, as the case of Afghanistan now shows, no gains at all.

If history holds true (see the histories of the FARC and ELN in Colombia), the corroding influence of the drug trafficking will move the Taliban, or at least a portion of them, away from their religious fanaticism and toward more common and predictable criminal behavior.

The results of that are hard to predict. Perhaps less religious zeal will be a boon to those living under Taliban rule. Or perhaps it will simply turn violent religious thugs into even harsher masters.

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